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