Writing from Irvine Welsh, in-your-face visual tics, a state of the nation address to ‘90s Britain, and Ewen Bremner – so far, so Trainspotting. Yet, while Nick Moran’s pop/punk biopic Creation Stories constantly aims to emulate Danny Boyle’s 1996 classic, it never has the spark or heart to remotely live up to that bold target. It’s intermittently entertaining, with an irrepressible energy, but finds itself stuck between comedy and straight drama, meaning neither the jokes nor the major emotional beats land as satisfyingly as they should.
We’re introduced to protagonist Alan McGee (Bremner) through the first of his many, many expository narrations (another trick lifted from Trainspotting, the final voiceover in particular cribbing so much from the ‘Choose Life’ speech that Welsh is basically self-plagiarising). An outsider in ‘60s Glasgow, McGee’s love of music but lack of real talent for it led him into management in the punk scene, starting Creation Records, which would go on to bring Acid House into the UK mainstream and find monumental success after discovering and signing Oasis just as they broke big.
It’s an intriguing premise, one that allows for plentiful appearances from various icons of late 20th Century Britain (an insufferable Peter Mandelson/Alistair Campbell duo is a highlight), but the framing device robs it of a lot of its energy. We’re constantly cutting back and forth between McGee’s rise to riches and a late-career interview he’s giving to American music journalist Gemma (Suki Waterhouse). While this does let Moran and Welsh play with the idea of McGee as unreliable narrator – we’re always seeing the world through his eyes – these scenes in LA are deeply uninteresting, and you always just want to head back to the grime and friction of Glasgow, London, or Manchester. Even a jolly Jason Isaacs cameo as a coked-up Hollywood producer only slightly raises the pulse.
Bremner is good value as McGee, though far too old to be playing him in his younger and wilder days, bringing weight to moments that are otherwise underserved by the script, like a painful but cathartic reunion with McGee’s aggressively conservative dad. He’s less adept with the more comedic side of things, but most of the blame there lies with the writing, which keeps bouncing along with the cadence of a joke without ever delivering an actual punchline. A lot of the supporting characters are ciphers who exist mainly to earn laughs, but the film as a whole simply isn’t funny enough, so they just feel like cardboard cutouts who occasionally move a plot point forward.
As an ode to the music of the time, Creation Stories can be affecting, and McGee’s love for his bands is irresistible, whether they’re global pop-rock sensations or flash-in-the-pan anarchist punks. Whenever we leave the gigs and clubs, though, there’s a distinct lack of Welsh’s trademark punch – even the political screeds are watered down and rushed through – while Moran’s attempts to ape Danny Boyle’s visuals are self-conscious and distracting. At its core, there’s a thrilling, hilarious story to tell in Creation Stories, but some shabby execution keeps it firmly mediocre.