‘Creation Stories’ Review: An Over-Amped Flashback to Britpop’s ’90s Heyday

'Trainspotting' collaborators reunite on a biopic of a Scottish music mogul that ends up feeling like a bombastic all-covers album of past hits.

Creation Stories
Courtesy of RLJ Entertainment

Some movies endure as a treasured soundtrack to which the film itself becomes a mere footnote. That seems likely to prove the case with “Creation Stories,” a biopic of Creation Records’ founder Alan McGee that duly draws sonic fuel from the stellar array of Britpop bands he was involved with. But as directed by Nick Moran in obvious imitation of executive producer Danny Boyle’s most hyperbolic style, scripted by Irvine Welsh and Dean Cavanagh, this apparently loose interpretation of the subject’s memoir becomes a hyperventilating “Behind the Music” caricature, all familiar flash and precious little substance. RLJ Entertainment is releasing on demand and digital platforms in the U.S. on Feb. 25, following openings in most other territories.

McGee’s 2013 same-titled tome is a breezy yet cogent chronicle of a whirlwind career, written in the clear-eyed retrospect of sobriety after years of chemical excess. But the film immediately lunges for a drug-addled freneticism that feels derivative — particularly since Boyle, Welsh and star Ewan Bremner have been there and done that before via the original “Trainspotting.” A juvenile Alan (Leo Flanagan) is introduced as a wee rock ’n’ roller appalling his brutish father (Richard Jobson) by “ponce-ing around” to the sounds of Bowie, then the Sex Pistols. Abandoning bleak Glasgow for London at the first opportunity, he hopes to make it in a band of his own (McGee fronted retro jangly-pop outfit Biff Bang Pow! for nearly a decade), but found more success in a natural aptitude for the industry’s business sides.

This encompassed artist management (starting with The Jesus and Mary Chain), promotion, venue programming and running indie label Creation Records. While some of his acts fled to the majors before or upon hitting the bigtime, he nonetheless played a huge role in what was dubbed the “Britpop” explosion of the mid-’90s, variably involved in the careers of Oasis, Primal Scream, Teenage Fanclub, My Bloody Valentine and many more. McGee didn’t just support rockstar egos, he possessed one himself, with the outsized appetites to boot. Eventually it all imploded, though he kept his hand in with later ventures like Poptone Records and floating club night Death Disco.

Much of this saga remains well-known to dedicated U.K. music fans. But with its dependence on rapid-fire montages of TV clips, New Music Express covers and so forth, as well as eyeblink depiction of the relevant bands (as interchangeable, attitudinous brats), “Creation Stories” does a poor job explaining it for anyone else. The characterizations are broad, the tone shrill. A frenetic pace pushed by hyperbolic visual strategies and editing barely distinguish McGee’s detour into Ecstasy, raves and acid house from years in the rock milieu of booze, coke and speed.

Taking over the role from Flanagan too soon (around age 25), the middle-aged Bremner can’t help but come off as if he’s doing a strenuous reprise of Spud from “Trainspotting,” with no room for depth or insight. The women in McGee’s life vanish from view almost as soon as they’re introduced. When we’re meant to understand his mother meant everything to him, this comes off as an afterthought (only occasioned by her death) rather than a poignant revelation.

While a handful of figures like fellow musician and Creation employee Ed Ball (played by Mel Raido) are allowed to provide some narrative continuity in a less manic key, the script’s crammed checklist of incidents and personalities too often results in a parade of familiar faces doing glorified cameos as cartooned figures both famous and fictive. A clumsy, transparent stab at imposing overall order comes in the form of sequences where McGee recollects his life to date while being interviewed by an American journalist (Suki Waterhouse in a thankless role).

It’s a colorful mess, even if the able design contributors don’t have the budget to work on the scale of many actual events depicted. But even as a surface-only flashback to Britpop’s heyday, the film gets hobbled by its lack of wit, as illustrated by such lowlights as a montage of corporate suits with “ARSEHOLE” blazoned over their faces, or a scene in which our hero wigs out on drugs to hoary novelty record “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!”

Actor-turned-director Moran, who duly impersonates Malcolm McLaren in one episode here, did a somewhat better if still uninspired job on 2008’s “Telstar: The Joe Meek Story.” Despite that story’s own intersection of rock, drugs and mental instability, it was at least restrained somewhat by the tenor of the early-’60s times. “Creation Stories,” by contrast, is stylistically gonzo from the get-go, in a tiresome and imitative way. It is, in fact, most reminiscent of the lesser Welsh adaptations (“The Acid House,” “Ecstasy”), which proved how difficult his aggro literary style is to maintain in another medium.

A documentary (though one already exists in 2010’s “Upside Down: The Creation Records Story”) or a TV miniseries might have been better able to portray Alan McGee’s personal rollercoaster without risking viewer motion sickness. But these 110 minutes end up feeling like a boorish highlight reel of bad-boy antics from a protagonist who off-screen has attained greater perspective on his erstwhile antics than his celluloid biographers manage. Even as a refresher course on a singular pop-cultural moment, the film does far less to explain just what Britpop was (or wasn’t) than simply sitting down with Primal Scream’s “Screamadelica” or Oasis’ “Definitely Maybe” might afford.

‘Creation Stories’ Review: An Over-Amped Flashback to Britpop’s ’90s Heyday

Reviewed online, Feb. 18, 2022. In Tribeca Film Festival. Running time: 110 MIN.

  • Production: (U.K.) An RLJE Films release (U.S.) of a Head Gear Films and Metro International Entertainment presentation in association with Kaleidoscope Film Distribution, Metrol Technology, Bohemia Media, Carte Blanche, Adirondack Media Group, Lightcraft of Burning Wheel production. Producers: Shelley Hammond, Ben Dillon, Hollie Richmond, Nathan McGough, Orian Williams, Mickey Gooch Jr. Executive producers: Danny Boyle, Greg Barrow, George Waud, Stephane Marchi, Terry Keely, Vincent Roget, Russell De Rozario, Lee Bennett, Sarah Hurley, Kyle Stroud, Ryan R. Johnson, Chris Cleverly, Anna Dziakowska, Spencer Pollard, Diane Gooch, Mickey Gooch Jr., Greg Thomas, Cynthia Thomas, Phil Hunt, Compton Ross, Will Machin, Natalie Brenner, Sam Parker, Neil Elliot, Christine Cowin, Steve O’Connell, Sony Music Entertainment. Co-producer: Andy Noble.
  • Crew: Director: Nick Moran. Screenplay: Irvine Welsh, Dean Cavanagh, based on the book “Creation Stories: Riots, Raves and Running a Label” by Alan McGee. Camera: Roberto Schaefer. Editor: Emma Gaffney. Music: Chad Hobson.
  • With: Ewan Bremner, Suki Waterhouse, Richard Jobson, Seana Kerslake, Leo Flanagan, Charlie Murphy, Jason Flemyng, Jason Isaacs, Thomas Turgoose, Michael Socha, Mel Raido, Paul Kaye, Joseph Millson, Ade, Steven Berkoff, Kirsty Mitchell, Mickey Gooch Jr., Nick Moran.