‘Beastie Boys Story’ review: Spike Jonze’s love letter to hip-hop’s golden age

The cult director's film-of-the-live-show-of-the-book-on-the-band is worth ch-checking out

The worst thing about Beastie Boys Story is that it’s basically just a TED talk in which Adam Horovitz and Mike Diamond tell anecdotes about their careers.

How much you enjoy this new Spike Jonze-directed live film of the show Horovitz and Diamond put together based on their 2018 memoir, Beastie Boys Book, written after the death of fellow Beastie Adam Yauch in 2012, will largely depend on how much the aforementioned format puts you off. For fans, the idea of Ad-Rock and Mike D waffling on about their iconic group for two hours will sound like a dream come true, but don’t come to this expecting much in the way of production values. Then again, given how sheepish the pair are about the 25ft dick-in-a-box that was once a staple of their live shows, maybe that’s a good thing.

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Shorn of any visual fireworks, what makes this film worth checking out is the frankness with which Horovitz and Diamond tell the stories behind songs you’ve heard a thousand times, starting right from their early days as a hardcore band when, as Mike D sagely observes: “We were like Monty Python as much as we were like Black Flag.”

Their tale not only illustrates the incredible creative and professional journey the Beasties went on, set in the context of the early days of rap, but also brings to life those pure, perfect moments of inspiration which can change entire cultures. Probably the best example is when they recreate the wonderfully low-tech way Yauch rigged his reel-to-reel tape recorder in order to sample Led Zeppelin’s ‘When the Levee Breaks’ for ‘Rhymin & Stealin’. There’s another great one, years later, when the pair walk in on Yauch jamming by himself and hear the bassline to ‘Sabotage’ for the very first time.

Beastie Boys Story
Ad-Rock (Adam Horovitz), Mike D (Mike Diamond), and MCA (Adam Yauch). Credit: Alamy

Horovitz and Diamond are self-aware enough to be open about their musical evolution, as well as their personal journeys. They’re frank about the shittiness of some of their past behaviour, particularly towards founding member Kate Schellenbach. “We kicked Kate out of the band because she didn’t fit into our new tough-rapper-guy identity,” wrote Horovitz in Beastie Boys Book – and in Jonze’s doc they’re just as honest. As the movie progresses, we see them evolve from brash, dick-joke-obsessed teens into young adults burned out by excess and then finally mature artists who not only take control of their music and their voice but use it to make powerful statements about the issues that matter to them, from feminism to a free Tibet.

The most moving moment in Beastie Boys Story is Horovitz’s tearful recollection of their headline show at Bonnaroo in 2009 that, unbeknownst to them, would be their last. It’s a bittersweet end to a larger-than-life tale, and a film that stands as a testament not just to the music Horovitz and Diamond made with Adam Yauch, but to the trio’s enduring friendship.

Details

  • Director: Spike Jonze
  • Starring: Mike Diamond, Adam Horovitz
  • Release date: April 24 (Apple TV+)
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