I Used to be Famous review – heartwarming boyband tale beats the neurodivergent drum

This schematic but sweet-natured comedy drama drives down a narrative track as straight and comfortingly predictable as an episode of Thomas the Tank Engine. Still, like Thomas with his unshakeable faith in rail engine-kind and the wisdom of the Fat Controller, this soppy Netflix feature may tickle the tear ducts of even some cynical viewers, particularly if they have a soft spot for stories about special needs kids exceeding expectations.

After a pre-credit sequence set in the early 00s when a certain kind of bland boyband was all the rage – although some might say that the moment never really passed – a quintet of English lads in a group called Stereo Dream play their last gig together. Flash-forward 20 years, and Stereo Dream’s erstwhile “mysterious” leader Vince (Ed Skrein, arguably best known for playing the first blond incarnation of Daenerys’ boo Daario in Game of Thrones) lives in relative obscurity in Peckham. Meanwhile, his former bandmate Austin (Eoin Macken) has become a star big enough for his retirement from touring to be a big deal, although anyone with a passing familiarity with the music industry would spot this doesn’t make a lot economic sense given the nature of the biz.

Austin’s career choices are only relevant later on though, and mostly the film revolves around Vince’s relationship with an autistic teenage drumming prodigy named Stevie (Leo Long), with whom one day he has an impromptu jam on a municipal city bench. Impressed with Stevie’s rhythmic gifts, and reminded of his own late brother, Vince tries to get Stevie to form a two-man band and play a gig with him in a local pub. But Stevie’s protective mother Amber (Eleanor Matsuura) doubts that her skittish son will cope with the noise and pressure of performing, even though it turns out that Vince is the one who has a meltdown when he’s triggered by a heckler.

You can see where this is going already, can’t you? The plot practically writes itself, and writer-director Eddie Sternberg has clearly been honing and polishing to a diamantine sparkle in the seven years since he made a short that sounds like it was basically the same story. Those who get worked up about films not casting actors who have the same disability as the characters they play will be pleased to note that Long identifies as neurodivergent in real life, and is not only a good drummer as well but a pretty good actor. And the film earns extra right-on bonus points for its heartening portrait of music therapists and the good they can do for clients.

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