Talkback: With Nevermind's 20th Anniversary Looming, Is It Time for the Kurt Cobain Biopic?

kurt_cobain300.jpgThis month marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Nevermind, Nirvana's 12-track (or 13-track, if you're lucky enough to own a copy with the hidden track "Endless, Nameless") masterpiece that trumpeted Gen X's weariness and forced MTV to overhaul its entire perception and appreciation of "alternative" rock. Is it time for lead singer Kurt Cobain's perpetually "in development" biopic to happen, or is there simply no one good enough for the role? Are Robert Pattinson, superfan Jared Leto, and Ewan McGregor all dismissible?

In the years since the album's release and Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain's 1994 suicide, fans have snatched up polarizing tokens that have, no doubt, reaffirmed the band and album's legacy: Charles R. Cross's Cobain biography Heavier Than Heaven, a collection of Cobain's handwritten musings entitled Journals, and a proper compilation album. Though the 1998 documentary Kurt and Courtney is a must-see for fanatics and Gus Van Sant contributed the oblique, Cobain-inspired Last Days in 2005, the next logical step in Cobain commemoration seems to be an actual biopic, though I'm shocked at how nervous I feel about pushing forward.

My instinct is to quibble that not enough time has passed to warrant a treatment yet -- even if the Courtney Love-controlled project has been percolating for years. Historically, my instinct is downright unfounded: Both the Oscar-nommed Gary Busey film The Buddy Holly Story and the Jessica Lange-starring biopic of Patsy Cline Sweet Dreams came out about 20 years after their subjects' respective deaths, and a Cobain film would follow in that tradition. Surely those artists also defined their generations and provided turning points in pigeonholed genres. Why should we feel precious about an adaptation of Cobain's life when it's clearly fascinating enough to sell books and provide fodder for juicy rumors like J. Edgar Hoover's?

The sentimental answer is that no rock musician since '94 has meant as much as Cobain. For the current generation that has no standout pioneer -- though Radiohead, Eminem, and Jay-Z come close -- Cobain still represents the last undeniable breakthrough and sea changer. The ineffable and absolute power of Nirvana's radio overthrow makes the band's meteoric existence seem new, somehow, and recent. A cloying, meekly imitative biopic feels like a major brick in barricading Nirvana and the band's meaning into the past. Depressing. Also, Dave Grohl does not look old! His Reitmanesque beard gives off the impression of a budding hotshot, not a storied rock veteran. He could play himself in a Cobain biopic, which is both confounding and refreshing.

I watched Jared Leto's wheezy tribute to Cobain and thought the same thing everyone did: Whether the My So-Called Life actor or someone else plays the part in all its lank-haired glory, the movie is coming. Maybe my ambivalence about Leto (and other rumored Kurts like Robert Pattinson and Ewan McGregor) compounds my preciousness, but I can't think of a single actor worthy of the part. Joseph Gordon-Levitt? With that thin-lipped, pseudo-Cobainian smile? The scruff-friendly Ryan Gosling, who is definitely more suited to play Errol Flynn than Cobain? The kid from Win Win? A dirty blonde Tilda Swinton? I've got nothing.

Perhaps the right actor is key in making Nirvana seem as fresh as (I want to believe) it still is. Any leads out there?


  • NP says:

    In thinking of actors who can give the kind of performance that suggests all the unspoken things (or rarely spoken/mostly internalized things) that were part of Cobain's short life, one name that popped into my head was James Frecheville from _Animal Kingdom_. I know the physical resemblance isn't quite there, but with some cosmetic help why not? The sort of simmering, so-much-happening-within performance that he gave in _Animal Kingdom_ is indicative of the type of performance probably required to play Cobain, no?
    Ewan McGregor and Leto are both way too old.
    I guess Robert Pattinson is a possibility, but has he really given us anything to indicate he's capable?

  • juicy says:

    I think it is time for a cobain bio-pic as well. I think Ewan mcgregor or the man who played the "cobain-like" character is the last days would be good for the part. i just hope it doesn't move away from the actual story like the film the runaways did. i was so excited to see it and it was just so hollywood and blah. The story should be gritty and real

  • Idaho says:

    Charlie Hunnam is a dead ringer...I'm surprised his name doesn't come up more often.

  • Fitz says:

    As much as I like Gordon-Levitt I think they will go out of the box. Maybe even Zac Efron. They both have those piercing blue eyes.

  • Efron! I dunno what the post-grunge equivalent of Buddhist monks burning themselves to death in protest would be, but we'd probably witness it.

  • Kirstin says: The ONLY person I would want to see play him. And he can sing. And play guitar.

  • Hiro the Eighth Samurai (and 14th Assassin) says:

    I think the actor Joe Anderson could make for a good Kurt Cobain. He definitely has the look.
    As for the biopic, my reservation is the same as it is for any biopic about a famous person... especially when the family and/or friends are involved. We're all going to get a very sanitized version of the real thing.
    I'd rather have a documentary about such figures, because even when they're sugar-coated a bit, it's hard to ignore reality.
    But with biopics done with the family's approval, there's far too much sugar-coating. I want reality, not what we usually get with biopics, which is the saint-like figure, or the tragic figure doomed to his/her vices. Sometimes there's both, but they're often portrayed as angels with just some slight flaws, even if they were complete a-holes in real life.

  • Hiro the Eighth Samurai (and 14th Assassin) says:

    Unfortunately, if the family is involved, and I'm sure they will be, there's little chance of seeing a gritty and real portrayal of Cobain and the people who came in and out of his life. It's something that weakens practically all biopics.

  • The Cantankerist says:

    McGregor! There was a time in his life when he would've been right for it and maybe gotten away with it, but given that he made Shallow Grave instead - oh, and Kurt Cobain was still alive at the time - I think we can probably safely assume that moment has passed. Leto has never shown the depth of characterization or snark for mine - being a really big fan doesn't count (in fact it's probably counterproductive, given that Cobain was not a big fan of Cobain). Pattinson? Who in at Movieline thinks like that? Is someone in there keen to make a deal, has a special relationship with his people? Is Hayden Christiansen unavailable? Will Bieber not return calls?

  • The Cantankerist says:

    In short, I'd think it would have to be an unknown - if the idea itself weren't fatally flawed to begin with. A Hollywood biopic on Cobain? Frances Farmer will indeed have her revenge on Seattle.

  • voodoocookie says:

    Have we all forgotten James McAvoy?! Didn't Courtney Love once said she wanted him (I could have recalled wrong).... Either way he's PERFECT!

  • eric says:

    Whether this is a true portrait or hollywood trash is what's going to make or break it immediately. As for an actor? Joe Anderson.. he looks like him, and sings in the same tone of voice.. as for the rest of the cast, who knows, but its better to show the real person, instead of, doomed saint, or wreckless asshole, which neither are true, and both are sugar coated one sided visions.. if you can't tell the truth, then dont say anything at all