TV-MA. George Lazenby has led an infamously debaucherous life. While this movie has its fair share of filthy stories and images, it could have been way worse. There is nudity and the movie has an extremely casual attitude towards sex, but I can't help but think that it could have been so much worse.
DIRECTOR: Josh Greenbaum
Not that long ago, I wrote a review of On Her Majesty's Secret Service. In that review, I alluded to the fact that George Lazenby is a weird guy who apparently has led the most insane life on par with Gene Simmons, Bill Murray, and Adam West. Apparently, Lazenby has all of these crazy underground stories that would make the most hardened veteran blush. He references this time in his life, but much of that is glossed over. It should also be noted that Becoming Bond ends after the press tour for On Her Majesty's Secret Service and I hear that some of the truly jawdropping stories happened after he left the Bond franchise behind for good.
It is hard to say what Becoming Bond is. It's labeled as a documentary because Lazenby is narrating the events of his life. It feels like Lazenby had an extremely long interview about his life and Josh Greenbaum decided to make a biopic around those scenes. Many documentaries, including The Jinx which I happen to be watching right now often include short reenactments to explain complex ideas that have no video evidence. Becoming Bond goes way beyond this. Lazenby is portrayed primarily by Josh Lawson, who seems to improvise jokes. It has a bit of a Drunk History vibe to it, only taking itself slightly more seriously. The reenactment sequences are very stylized. It doesn't feel like Lawson and company are going for perfect recreations of the events as they happened, but more along the lines of how Lazenby simplifies it. Many of the reenactments are more played for laughs because Lazenby finds such humor in his storytelling. As a documentary, it is fascinating. As a biopic, it needs the narration to link it together and make it work, but it is extremely fun. I kind of got the Big Fish vibe from the tone of the film. At one point, the interviewer --presumably Greenbaum --asks him what aspects of Lazenby's story is true. Lazenby seems incredulous about this question, but the question makes a lot of sense. Much like Big Fish, this does feel like a tall tale. Lazenby's entire life seems to be one that is larger than life. He has an almost Forrest Gump like quality, being in the right place at the right time. That makes the biopic element of the movie all the more fascinating. The story is so big that the movie must be fun to act in.
The reenactments are silly, but they are extremely effective. I think something that makes George Lazenby who he is involves a certain degree of self-effacement. Some of the moments in this movie could be seen as somewhat disturbing. Lazenby, towards the end of the movie, kind of acknowledges that he doesn't know why he turned fame and fortune down. The movie introduced me to something I never really knew about Lazenby: he was offered a six picture deal after the amazing success of On Her Majesty's Secret Service. He had himself set. The big revelation is that he didn't want to sign a contract. There was an active decision to turn away from Bond. He said he'd prefer to be a car salesman all over again. It makes Lazenby looks possibly a bit more heroic than he actually is. He bows out with this weird artistic integrity that the rest of his tale never even hints at. Lazenby wasn't this good guy who was all about his art and only chose to do what was good for the soul. He led the life of a rock star as hard as he could during the shoot of On Her Majesty's Secret Service. He took everyone for as much money as he could get out of them. The final moment where he turns away from the Bond franchise is heartwarming, but I get the vibe that keeping up appearances was way too hard to maintain and that he had already made more money with that one film than he had ever seen. It's still pretty impressive when he turns down a suitcase with a million dollars in it. Lazenby, in that moment, became a cautionary tale for studio execs. Lazenby became the worst case scenario for every studio head when the lackadaisical attitude towards contracts became a problem. I can't think that anyone could have predicted the moment when he decided to turn his back from what everyone had only dreamed of. I wondered this morning whether or not we were living in an alternate universe where George Lazenby had done all seven films and Roger Moore never became Bond.
There's a moment where Lazenby cries and I hope it is real. That makes me seem like a bit of a jerk, but it humanizes Lazenby so much. The movie is about humanizing an urban legend and it does a great job. But the movie has a bit of a throughline when it comes to the girl who got away. The story of Belinda is a tragic tale and it is a really nice counterbalance to the P.T. Barnum aspects that Lazenby normally presents throughout the normal film. It's a bit saccharine and Hallmark-y, but it helps knowing that in the middle of the sexual revolution, there was a moment of true affection that Lazenby experienced. He seems to be filled with regret to this day about how that played out, despite the fact that he is pretty proud of the life he lived, debauchery and all. The Belinda story has a moment of "eh" in it, but I think that comes from the fact that Greenbaum can only portray what Lazenby explains in his interview. Belinda is portrayed as the perfect human being. She is the victim completely, with the exception of one moment that is built up pretty high and ignored pretty quickly. SPOILERS: Belinda leaves Australia for London for three months. During that time, she leaves Lazenby and starts dating the captain of the Oxford cricket team. When Lazenby follows her around the world and finally finds her again, he seems very passive about Belinda's transgression. Perhaps the problem comes from the fact that Lazenby only started dating Belinda because he grabbed her away from her boyfriend. It makes it very strange that Belinda was so shocked that Lazenby would cheat on her later on. The sting makes sense and is very human, but there's a weird hypocrisy that the audience is kind of meant to ignore. But again, I think this comes from Lazenby's subjectivity. Belinda, in his mind, is a saint and she is also his biggest failure. He had happiness and gave it up for a life of partying and con artistry.
I really like the aesthetic of the whole thing. It is odd seeing so many elements of the Bond franchise used in this documentary / biopic (I still can't decide what to call this movie!). The movie is separated by chapters. It uses the opening gunbarrel to break up the elements of the movie. Starting with the traditional dots across the screen, those dots morph to match the climate of the era it is portraying. To add to the whole thing, the chapters are puns of the titles of Bond movies and Bond elements. It is super fun. On top of that, the actual Bond theme is used for the credits sequence, which I rarely hear outside of The Goonies. The production value on this movie is phenomenal, especially considering that it is a Hulu original. I wonder if the movie was made before and they sold it to Hulu or vice versa. Regardless, the production value on the whole thing blows my mind and doesn't feel simply like another look at the movies made by EON productions. I've seen many of those and I enjoy them, but they are definitely a water down version of history to sell the movies. This is quite the opposite. It seems like a love letter towards Bond, but in a way that likes them --warts and all. After seeing enough interviews talking about the genius of Cubby Broccoli, it was great seeing him portrayed by Ralph Garmin. I mention Ralph Garmin, because the movie is full of very big named cameos. One of the cameos is intimately linked to the Bond franchise, which is great. Garmin has one of the biggest roles, but the rest of the big cameos are on screen for maybe a minute or two. I don't know why these people had been cast in these roles, but it makes the movie all the more fun. Perhaps the actors are a big fan of Bond or Lazenby or are just doing it for a paycheck, but it just adds to the surreal nature of the whole endeavor.
I love Bond and I have great affection for On Her Majesty's Secret Service. This movie was made for me, but I kept thinking that I wanted to share it with others. I'm not sure who those people would be, considering the content is a little more R-Rated than the standard fare with the same tone. If you don't mind a little tongue-in-cheek debauchery, give this one a whirl. It is very fun and you might learn a little something about an underground legend.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.