Not all emotions are spelled out—one has to have a certain degree of emotional intelligence to infer the motivations behind the actions of others. “I Used To Be Famous” is that kind of film. It traces the journey of a yesteryear star, Vince, as he tries to make a name for himself once more, with the help of a young, autistic drummer named Stevie. It is about Vince’s relationship with fame and how he comes to love his art independently, without the adulation that comes with it. Let us see how it plays out in a time span of almost 2 hours.
Vince And Stevie’s Partnership As ‘The Tin Men’
“I used to be famous” begins in 2002, with Vince getting ready for his performance with his band, led by him and Austin. Vince is known for his “edgy, mysterious persona,” while Austin is more of the “boy next door.” Cut to 20 years later, Vince is crossing the street with his musical instruments, trying to get a gig at the local pubs and facing rejection from all of them. At one point, he just gives up and gets ready to play on the streets when he encounters a fan who starts recording him immediately. She also takes a mocking tone towards him and says that he should go back to his boy band look if he hopes for any success. At the same time, when he starts playing, he is joined by Stevie, who uses his bench as a drum and adds to the rhythm. It brings together all the people in the area to watch their performance. But before they can take it further, Stevie’s mother comes and takes him away. Vince continues his search for places to perform his music when he chances upon a music therapy group, where he spots Stevie. He is invited in and joins their group for a little performance.
Vince is out to regain the fame of his younger days and nothing else. It is sort of cringe to watch him say at the employment agency that though he has had no formal training agency, he has a knack and natural charisma for it- definitely words from an editorial written in his more famous days. He goes as far as to dye his hair blonde, a look he was sporting 20 years ago, in his band. He probably thought it would make him more recognizable and acceptable, or maybe he just took his annoying fan a little too seriously. But she had good intentions after all. She shows him the clip of him jamming with Stevie, which has gone viral. Delighted at this, he takes it to one of the local pubs and uses it as leverage to land a gig. His next step is to convince Stevie and his mother. He shows up at their place to talk to them. Stevie seems delighted at the prospect, but his mother is more cautious. She and Vince get into an argument, and Stevie is visibly affected. She goes to get his sticks, knowing they will calm him down. In the meantime, Vince starts playing a tune to try and placate him, and surprisingly, it works. Seeing this exchange, Amber gains some confidence in Vince and agrees to let Stevie perform. The duo practice for their performance, where we gain another peek into the workings of their minds. Stevie idolizes certain musicians, but he wants to bring his own voice into the music world. Vince, on the other hand, is focused on being “someone” instead of being “himself. The younger boy wants to go to music school so that he can get further into the field. On the day of the gig itself, things go pretty well, and the audience loves their performance until a point. When you are on a huge stage, the audience screams “encore” but in a smaller setting, the audience is not going to listen to your every word unless you are someone already famous. Vince does not catch on to this difference and tries to perform one too many songs. The audience starts booing him away, and one man tries to corner Stevie.
In a bid to protect him, Vince gets into an altercation with that man, resulting in their being thrown out of the bar and getting a lifetime ban. To add to his utter embarrassment, this is witnessed by Austin, who had come to watch his performance upon his invitation. He tells him to leave him alone. When he goes to talk to Stevie, Amber tells him to never contact them again. Vince is heartbroken. He goes home and plays some of his old home videos, where his brother is lying in a hospital bed, and Vince is promising to show up for his birthday. But he had been unable to as his band was at the peak of its success at that time and taking a break from it, even to see his dying brother, would have meant an end to his career. And that was why he had been unable to be there in his brother’s last moments. After what seems like a long time, he goes to visit his mother and asks for his brother’s harmonica. But his mother is hurting in her own way. Vince had probably never shared his grief with anyone. But that also meant that he was not there to support his mother in her grief. His visiting her could be the start of their reconciliation because later, she sends Ted’s harmonica to him, which he had come looking for.
On the other hand, Stevie tells his mother that he wants to be more independent. He wants to take care of himself so that his mother can start pursuing her passion for dance once again. He is aware that he is not like the rest but doesn’t seem to consider it a hindrance in the way of living a life of his choice. For that, he has our admiration. He proves it by going from place to place and getting their band another gig. He tells Vince to try and apologize to his mother so that they can start working again. Vince does so, and this takes him once again to the music therapy group. It turns out, his real knack and charisma lie in being a teacher to the students present. He is offered the job, and Vince sees his life turning around. He had always craved the love and fame that came to him because of his music. He was only starting to realize that it could also be found in the simple act of encouraging others to discover their love for the arts.
As luck would have it, right around this time, he is contacted by Austin and offered the supporting gig for his upcoming tour. However, there’s one condition: Stevie is not a part of it. Vince is torn about this decision. On one hand, he has always wanted this. On the other hand, he has it due to Stevie. There had to be that nagging doubt in his mind about whether he was repeating the mistakes of his past. Either way, when he breaks the news to Stevie, he takes it calmly and tells him to go for it. He also invites him to his birthday the following month. From that moment on, both of them started moving forward in their lives. Vince starts getting ready for his big break. Stevie, though initially heartbroken, rebuilds himself by going for what he has always wanted—joining a music school. He gets an audition for one of his chosen schools. Meanwhile, Amber visits Vince and congratulates him on his success. But she asks him to not visit Stevie again. We agree with her when she says that she wants to protect her son from the heartbreak of empty promises. It makes sense that she wants Vince to stay away from him.
‘I Used To Be Famous’ Ending Explained: Does Vince Agree To Go On Tour?
The visit from Amber really forces Vince to take a look at his priorities and what he wants. Does he really want to sacrifice one more relationship at the altar of fame? Can he justify it to himself? In the words of Stevie, “nobody gets a third shot”. Stevie was his second shot at correcting the mistakes of his past. Does he really want to let that go? Which second shot is more important to him? He gets the answers when he goes to the studio. He finds that his tracks are being remixed to make them more commercial. He is handed a contract and is asked to make his decision immediately, because “if he takes too long, they might change their mind about him.” But the desperation Vince felt at hearing this statement for the first time in his youth is lacking now. He realizes that the fame and adulation that he had been running after was for a manufactured ‘someone’ and not him, contrary to the fame and acceptance he had received from his music therapy group or even Stevie. What he had wanted for so long was right there; he had just now learned to recognize it.
It is Stevie’s birthday, and this time, Vince is going to be there for his brother. “I Used To Be Famous” ends with Vince leading Stevie to a concert he has organized just for him with the help of the group. Stevie is delighted to get back his friend, and his mother is happy for him. Understandably, Vince has not signed the contract.
Final Thoughts: What Works For ‘I Used To Be Famous’ Film?
It is a universally known fact that every artist claim validation. “I Used To Be Famous” is about the clash between that acceptance and art itself. From the beginning, Vince was chasing fame. But in the process, he created a space for himself that was based on real love for who he was and that satisfied the person he was. This nuance was captured brilliantly in the movie. The actors were perfect, and kudos to the makers for rightfully giving the role to a neurodivergent actor. While we believe that it could have moved a tad bit faster, it was sufficiently engaging. There needed to be more music and maybe a little more explanation about Vince’s inner conflict. Either way, we are satisfied with the film and consider it a must-watch for everyone.
“I Used To Be Famous” is a 2022 Drama film directed by Eddie Sternberg.