Film Review: ‘Oasis: Supersonic’

From the producers of 'Amy,' this rowdy one-night-only rock doc reveals the personalities behind the British band.

'Oasis: Supersonic' Is an Incomplete But Riotously Enjoyable Rock Doc

No matter where one places Oasis in the pantheon of great bands, it’s beyond debate that Oasis guitarist-songwriter Noel Gallagher ranks as one of the most quotable rock stars of all time. Blessed with an unusual combination of comically outsized narcissism and wry, witty self-awareness, Gallagher is able to frame his band as both a group of world-historical geniuses and a ragtag gang of idiots within the same sentence, and Mat Whitecross’ documentary, “Oasis: Supersonic,” largely follows his lead. Hardly the most probing or edifying of rock docs, this A24-backed, one-night-only theatrical release is nonetheless a riotously enjoyable, appropriately deafening flashback to one of the last moments in music history when a bunch of knuckleheads with guitars could conquer the world on chutzpah alone.

Unabashedly self-aggrandizing — the film begins and ends with footage of Oasis’ career-defining Knebworth concerts of 1996, making no mention of the fact that the group continued touring and releasing increasingly marginal new music for a decade afterward — “Supersonic” is executive produced by Asif Kapadia, and director Whitecross does his best to mimic the style his producer developed with “Senna” and “Amy.” Band members, road managers, record execs, and the Gallagher brothers’ mother are all heard but not seen in present-day interviews, while collages of home movies, performance footage, and rehearsal shenanigans play onscreen. Given a far less tragic subject, Whitecross never plumbs the sorts of depths that Kapadia’s films managed, but the group gives him plenty of material, and he strings it together expertly.

The film’s central narrative — and indeed, that of the band itself — concerns the simmering, sometimes violent sibling rivalry between Noel Gallagher and his younger brother, lead singer Liam. Raised by an Irish immigrant mother in working-class Manchester, the brothers Gallagher scarcely played music together until the dawn of the 1990s, when Liam put together a band with rhythm guitarist Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs, bassist Paul “Guigsy” McGuigan, and drummer Tony McCarroll. Noel, having recently been fired from the road crew of local band Inspiral Carpets, was swiftly convinced to join, and wasted no time making himself the de facto bandleader.

Liam’s cocksure, disdainful insouciance as a frontman somehow provided a perfect complement to Noel’s innate gift for stadium-filling riffs and earworm choruses, and the band developed quickly (raw rehearsal footage of the group playing a very early version of “All Around the World” shows its signature sound already intact from the start). By the time they got in front of Creation Records head Alan McGee, Oasis were a real force, and the group’s muscular, unrefined anthems provided an antidote both to England’s rainbow-colored dance music scene, and to the po-faced miserabilism of the grunge movement Stateside.

Eventually, at least. Immediately after showing us the series of “Eureka!” moments that led to the group’s triumphant genesis, the film segues to Noel, who notes, “And then, for two years, nothing happened.” The film is at its cleverest when it pokes holes in the band’s “overnight sensation” narrative, also delving into the multiple false starts that accompanied Oasis’ debut LP, “Definitely Maybe.” Yet no one involved has much interest in framing Oasis’ story as one of struggle and hardship. Refreshingly free from pretensions of artistic grandeur or any political message to impart, Oasis were simply a bunch of council-estate stoners who wanted to be one of the biggest rock bands on earth, and by the time of 1995’s “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?,” they were.

In stark contrast to “Amy,” the copious substance abuse of Oasis’ heyday appears to have left the band members relatively unscathed. Whitecross offers visual aides to illustrate the maritime mischief that led to Oasis being deported from the Netherlands on the eve of their international debut; later, the group recalls how their discovery of crystal meth on a maiden trip to Los Angeles led to a calamitous show in front of industry bigwigs at the Whisky A Go Go. Both scenes are played for comedy — and admittedly, both are pretty funny — but coming so soon after Kapadia’s Winehouse documentary so harrowingly dismantled the mythos of decadent rock star invincibility, these anecdotes have a slightly sour edge.

As for the Gallagher brothers’ endless feuds, “Supersonic” details a few, and offers a “Rashomon”-like dissection of a studio argument that ended with the deployment of a cricket bat. Yet the precise cause of their mutual disdain remains elusive. Unusually for a story of intraband conflict, “creative differences” were never an issue here, with Liam seemingly happy to leave the gruntwork of songwriting to his brother. “You do the music, and I’ll just be over here looking cool as f—k,” Liam instructs him at one point. Meanwhile, Noel offers some backhanded admiration for Liam’s fashion sense: “There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t wish I could rock a parka like that man.”

However, the film takes a turn for the serious when the Gallaghers speak of their father, who was physically abusive. Long absent from his children’s lives, he reappeared at the height of their fame to flog stories to the tabloids, and one incident at a Dublin pub offers a revealing glimpse of the brothers beyond all the bluster. Loaded up on post-concert drinks, Liam hears that his father is outside. He’s ready to physically attack him, and Noel is captured on camera with his arms around his brother, holding him back and trying to talk him down. It’s a poignant snapshot of the sort of real fraternal love and concern that both brothers spend the rest of the film trying to deny ever existed.

Film Review: ‘Oasis: Supersonic’

Reviewed at Dick Clark Screening Room, Santa Monica, Sept. 27, 2016. Running time: 117 MIN.

  • Production: (Documentary) An A24 release of a Lorton Entertainment presentation, in association with On the Corner Films, Mint Pictures, Nemperior. Producers: James Gay-Rees, Simon Halfon, Fiona Neilson. Executive producers: Joseph Berry Jr., Julian Bird, Liam Gallagher, Noel Gallagher, Asif Kapadia.
  • Crew: Director: Mat Whitecross. Camera (color/B&W). Editor: Paul Monaghan.
  • With: Noel Gallagher, Liam Gallagher, Peggie Gallagher, Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs, Paul “Guigsy” McGuigan, Tony McCarroll, Alan McGee, Owen Morris