Opening Night at the 2013 Newport Beach Film Festival felt like quite a success, as I was happy to enjoy the film that kicked off this week-long event. Broadway Idiot is a documentary that covers the process of turning a hugely successful Green Day album into a Broadway musical. Unless one simply cannot stand Green Day for whatever reason, the film is highly enjoyable and a breezy look at what it is to show a rock band taking on a new direction in their career by way of theater, of all things. The best compliment I could give would be that the documentary made me want to see the actual show performed live. Given that I am more a fan of the earlier music by Green Day, I would say that is a strong enough statement. Regardless, the documentary was an enjoyable watch and really kicked things off for the film festival rather nicely.
This is from NBFF’s official synopsis for Broadway Idiot: Filmed over four years with rare access behind the curtain, this film gives you a front row seat as Billie Joe Armstrong, the lead singer of the world famous band, Green Day, ventures from rock and roll into the strange world of Broadway. It is not just Green Day’s mega hit album – American Idiot- that is transformed in the process – Billie Joe is too. American Idiot debuted to great success, winning two Tony Awards and has now been taken on the road around the world. This is a journey from a Green Day concert at Madison Square Garden to the Great White Way – only ten blocks away, but worlds apart. Will Broadway, or Billie Joe, ever be the same?
Clocking in at only 80 minutes, the doc really travels fast with providing a ton of highlights for what was apparently a four year period of filming. For the most part, we are given plenty of the basic information needed to have a grasp on where Green Day was coming from following the release of American Idiot, their most successful album; where the notion to turn this album (which was a concept album, designed to play as a rock opera) into a musical came from; and how it had an effect on the band. That is quite a lot to cover in a brief documentary and I am sure a lot was left out, which is an issue I will address later, but the film gets a lot of mileage out of its entertaining approach to presenting all of these aspects of the story.
While I have not seen the show, the best part of this documentary was seeing how some of the various musical numbers were created. There are several instances where the songs are presented to us in their original form, followed by new adaptations, with added vocal segments and melodies, suitable for the stage, rehearsal footage for the show, and what the final version on stage looks like. One does not necessarily get the full message of what Green Day was going for with the songs, but the film is not so much about the meaning as it is the presenting of the creation of the stage adaptation, the people involved, and the reactions of Billie Joe Armstrong and the others.
I mention the others, but that is an aspect that was kind of missing from the documentary. Billie Joe Armstrong is definitely the most outspoken band member in this film, as we get interviews almost exclusively from him and hear very little from the other band members Mike Dirnt or Tre Cool. I suppose if this was a documentary about the messages of American Idiot the album or a film that was specifically about Green Day, more could have been seen of them, but I was still curious as to what the other 2/3rds of the band was thinking in regards to this stage production of their biggest accomplishment as a group. That said, Broadway Idiot does tease the idea that Billie Joe made a new discovery about himself and how success has changed his life. I just wish this was a clearer aspect in the story as well.
Broadway Idiot begins with a flash-forward to Billie Joe being a part of the stage performance in some manner, leaving us the rest of the film to figure out how he got to that point. The problem is that the film does not make too much of an arc out of this. Now, real life can’t exactly be shaped into a traditional three-act structure all the time, but director Doug Hamilton and his editor Rob Tinworth tried their best to throw in some bookends on the film that unfortunately did not quite resonate as effectively as I would have liked. The film had so much going on within its short span of time that it didn’t quite find the best way to juggle every aspect. Beyond the idea that ‘American Idiot: The Broadway Musical’ was happening, we only get a handful of perspectives and not a clear gage on how long this whole process took and when things were happening.
Looking past these problems, however, there were a lot of likable qualities to the various threads that we continued to see throughout the film. Watching the various people involved with the production talk about their excitement to be a part of something unique was quite enjoyable. Seeing the process come to life and learn about the initial performances for smaller crowds, only to see footage from the Grammys, where the Broadway announcement was originally made was quite neat to behold as well. If there was a lot more to the footage shot, than what Broadway Idiot has been edited down to certainly emphasizes the enjoyable triumphs.
Focus-related issues aside, as far as fun, music-oriented documentaries go, Broadway Idiot is a very enjoyable feature. It does have its heart in the right place and the people involved in the creation of the musical, as well as Billie Joe, are quite endearing to watch. The film effectively provides the basics in what the musical production of American Idiot entails and how it came to be, without going too in depth. And If you like the music by Green Day, then you are in for quite the treat as well, as its pretty much nonstop in that department. For those seeking an entertaining look at how one of the most successful albums of the 2000s became a full-on Broadway production, Broadway Idiot is perfectly acceptable.