There’s at least one bonkers Madness track you can hum or Dad-dance along to. Since participating in the Madness musical Our
Suggs chronicles his whole background from humble and transitional beginnings growing up in ‘70s North London, to the Madness phenomenon, and afterwards. Woven through these lovingly told anecdotes is Suggs, in the present, embarking on his own Who Do You Think You Are? journey to find out more about his dad, who left when he was three years old. There are also various interludes where Suggs sings the classics (except Our House, which is peculiar) and destroys bottles of water on stage while impersonating Tommy Cooper. It almost encourages a House of Fun.
It’s hard not to love Suggs with his funny and eloquent oratory, as well as his infectiously kooky demeanour. But his jokes and (apparently) humorous asides are like impersonations of a better stand-up act. They also belong to a different time – not in terms of modern political correctness (though some sexism does slip through) but because of their resemblance to expired cheese. Suggs’s mediocre one-liners are of ‘80s quality, ones we’d look up on YouTube and mock. And many audience-members attending the show look like they’ve never left the ‘80s, and even they don’t laugh during some of his jokes. Many of them look blank at times, even bored.
Temple usually excels in bringing together archive footage and tying it to the story to provide a tangible sense of time, place, and character – but these brief instances are interrupted by Suggs on stage as well as the annoying, film school-quality reconstructions. It’s like he’s constantly trying to hijack the conversation back to him, or back to what he wants to talk about. The trouble is, he’s less interesting than the band he’s famous for. You wonder why Temple didn’t just make a Madness documentary, but when Suggs egotistically begins his sentences with “my first single” instead of “our first single”, you begin to understand why. Temple does manage to throw in some of his staples, resulting in the movie’s most engaging scenes, but they still feel negotiated.
Suggs: My Life Story has its charm and (some) emotion, but the outcome is a barely-passable ego-trip instead of an exciting music-doc. Despite Suggs being a terrific performer, his random bursts into song are just embarassing. The film is entertaining but not that interesting – clunkily thrown together with bad structure and irksome sound editing (a lamentable sin for a music documentary). Suggs’ story may be nectar for Madness freaks, but even they will feel short-changed. Unlike their songs, My Life Story won’t stick in your mind.
Suggs: My Life Story is released on 17th January.