Boy George (aka George O’Dowd) was the lead singer of the band Culture Club. Their hit songs, “Karma Chameleon” and “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me,” topped the charts in the early 1980’s. Boy George’s fashion, sexuality and addictions were the subject of gossip and scrutiny. After some high profile scandals Boy George and Culture Club parted ways.
After watching the flawed Bohemian Rhapsody, the interesting Rocketman and the terrible Stardust I decided to visit another queer musician from that era. The Boy George musical Taboo and the TV movie Worried About the Boy each offer a fresh take on the biopic formula.
Read on for my spoiler filled recaps.
Boy George’s musical, Taboo, chronicled London’s 80’s club scene through the eyes of a naive photographer. His catchy songs couldn’t overcome the sloppy book and cardboard characters. The show was extensively rewritten for the Broadway transfer. George was upgraded from supporting character to protagonist. But he was lost in a crowd of supporting characters. Taboo closed on Broadway after 100 performances. The London show was filmed but you’re better off listening to the cast album.
London’s West End
ROSIE O’DONNELL: George, you’re such a cutie patootie! I can’t wait to see your musical!
BOY GEORGE: I wrote original songs too. No jukebox score for me!
Act One: Love Triangle
LUKE EVANS: I want to be a photographer!
PUNK GIRL: I want to be a fashion designer!
LUKE and PUNK: (Sing) We’re in love!
STAGE BOY GEORGE: I want to steal Luke Evans for myself!
LEIGH BOWERY (Performance Artist): So do I. I’ll humiliate Punk Girl at my fashion show.
LUKE EVANS: I like Punk Girl. But if I sleep with George he could make me famous!
ROSIE O’DONNELL: So, you’ve written the queer characters as the villains?
BOY GEORGE: Kinda?
Act Two: Hard Times
GEORGE’S FRIENDS: (Sing) We get songs unrelated to the plot.
STAGE BOY GEORGE: I’m taking heroin.
LUKE EVANS: (Sings) You suck George. I’m telling the press that you take heroin.
POLICE: We’re arresting Boy George for possession of heroin.
LEIGH BOWERY: (Sings) I’m dying of AIDS.
LUKE EVANS: And that’s why I became a Hare Krishna!
ROSIE O’DONNELL: We need to rewrite this show before I produce it on Broadway. You should be the protagonist. Nobody cares about Luke Evans.
BOY GEORGE: What about Leigh Bowery?
ROSIE O’DONNELL: Americans don’t know who he is. You’ll have to play him yourself to sell tickets.
BOY GEORGE: But if Real Boy George is playing a different character opposite Stage Boy George, won’t that be confusing?
ROSIE O’DONNELL: Broadway audiences are smart. They’ll be able to follow it.
NARRATOR: They weren’t able to follow it.
Worried About the Boy (2010)
The BBC’s Worried About the Boy is less ambitious than Taboo, but still not a conventional biopic. Instead of spanning George’s career it focuses on the rocky romances of his youth. Young George suffers from internalized homophobia. He feels rejected for his femininity but keeps chasing after rough trade. His songwriting only comes up in the final stretch. The teenage Douglas Booth gives a likeable performance but the film is bland. It sucks all the fun out of show business.
Act One: Leaving Home
DAD: You need a job and a plan.
BOY GEORGE (Douglas Booth): But I want to be a bohemian!
MARILYN (Freddie Fox): Then come to Club Blitz with me. We’ll get our picture in the papers!
(Boy George’s date sleeps with a woman. George punches him.)
BOY GEORGE: “Why can I only pull straight guys?”
MARILYN: “Because gay men don’t find you attractive… You, petal, are what a straight man thinks a gay man looks like.”
DAD: And you still need a job and a plan.
Act Two: Romance
KIRK BRANDON (Richard Madden): I’m not queer. But we should date.
BOY GEORGE: I’ve planned our wedding.
KIRK BRANDON: Never mind. I’m leaving you.
BOY GEORGE: Now Richard Madden’s free to break Elton John’s heart in his biopic.
DAD: Stop taking drugs George.
BOY GEORGE: But I’m super sad.
Act Three: Career
BOY GEORGE: I want to be famous. I’ll try writing songs on a whim. Tra-la.
JON MOSS (Drummer/Boyfriend): Your songs need to appeal to straight audiences.
(Moss flirts with a woman. George punches him.)
BOY GEORGE: You broke my heart. I won’t perform tonight.
JON MOSS: If I tell you I love you, will you get on the stage?
BOY GEORGE: Yes.
(Douglas Booth badly lip syncs ‘Do You Really Want to Hurt Me.’)
The Church of the Poisoned Mind
Everybody knows me so why am I so lonely?Boy George, Taboo
Biopics love to remind us that fame is no substitute for therapy. They paint Freddy Mercury, Elton John and Boy George in a similar light. Tragic, self-loathing and perpetually lonely. Always falling for the wrong man. Never realizing how their own destructive behavior is pushing people away. The Freddie and Elton biopics take a moment to focus on the music. But George doesn’t seem to have much interest in his career. It’s merely a way to chase validation from his crushes. This portrait sells his talents short. Taboo had a stripped-down revival in 2012. Reviews were kinder this time, though Boy George’s personal life had only gotten darker.
Who would you cast as Boy George today? Which other queer artists would you give the biopic treatment to? You can find my other reviews on The Avocado and Letterboxd. My podcast, Rainbow Colored Glasses, can be found here.