Reviews and entertainment articles by Dave Simpson
It’s been a fruitful few weeks for iconic guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong. Not only did he and his bandmates just treat enthusiasts to a terrific twelfth album, but he also released his first ever film on October 14th. Written and directed by Lee Kirk, Ordinary World recounts what happens when musician turned family man Perry Miller decides to embark on a well-meaning but reckless quest to recapture the past on his fortieth birthday.
In case it isn’t obvious from the image that adorns the top left corner of this blog, I’m a big Billie Joe fan. His songs have served as a source of inspiration for me since adolescence and rarely does a day go by that Green Day don’t dominate my mp3 playlists. So, naturally I was excited when it was announced that the veteran rock star would be giving acting a go, but it did beg the question of whether his proficiency as a performer would extend to the realm of cinema. Thankfully, the answer is a resounding yes!
As it turns out, Billie Joe is just as adept on screen as he is on stage. I assumed beforehand that however enjoyable the movie may be, I would be very aware that I was watching Billie Joe Armstrong as opposed to being absorbed by a fictional character, but I found myself so invested in Perry Miller’s plight that I’d almost forgotten he was being portrayed by my favourite musician by the time the credits rolled.
Armstrong does an outstanding job of immersing himself in the role, effortlessly endowing Perry with an irresistible charm that’s likely to leave you smiling for a substantial portion of the movie’s run-time. That being said, he also brings an abundance of emotion to the table by effectively conveying the conflict buried beneath the protagonist’s playful exterior, which adds a lot of layers to both Perry’s personality and the narrative as a whole.
Even though Billie Joe doesn’t make you doubt that Perry genuinely loves his family, it’s clear that he’s dissatisfied with the “ordinary world” in which he resides. One of the movie’s most moving moments is when Perry plays its title track for an old acquaintance. Such is Armstrong’s skill as both an actor and a singer that you can really feel the strong sense of regret that Perry harbours for having chosen not to pursue a career in music.
Now that he’s approaching middle age, he can’t help contemplating what could have been, but you obviously don’t need to be in your forties to know what it’s like to wonder about the road not taken. It’s a concept to which individuals of all ages can surely relate and this, along with Armstrong’s incredibly compelling performance, provides viewers with a protagonist with whom it is easy to identify.
In fact, Armstrong succeeds in making Miller so likable that he seems sympathetic even when he’s running the risk of disappointing those who are depending on him the most. His forgetfulness when it comes to his family actually injects a lot of tension into the story. Suspense arises from simple concerns such as wondering whether Miller will remember that he has to be home to let his in-laws in during his lunch hour or if he’ll get his daughter’s guitar to her in time for her talent show. These may sound like mundane matters, but they give rise to some genuinely disquieting moments as the plot progresses.
The narrative contains more than enough comedy to ensure things never get too dark or depressing though. A lot of the laughs come from Armstrong’s amusing expressions and the reactions that Perry has to what’s going on around him. The look on his face as a friend is telling him about flying first class to Paris and meeting Paul McCartney is hilarious, while his run-ins with the “dads’ group” from his daughter’s school and his awkward interaction with one of rock’s most revered women are also delightfully droll.
Co-star Fred Armisen is remarkably whimsical as Perry’s former bandmate Gary as well. His immature tendencies act as the catalyst for a considerable amount of chaos and help to lighten the mood in several situations. He serves as something of a facetious foil to the rest of the supporting cast, most of whom play more serious parts.
Judy Greer’s Christy is really more of a plot device than an actual character, but I don’t mean that as a denunciation. On the contrary, Christy is a crucial component of the plot in that her encounters with Perry help him come to terms with his choices and realise what really matters to him.
Madisyn Shipman demonstrates a touching rapport with Armstrong as his on screen daughter, Salome. The two seem extremely natural together as parent and child, and the look of love and pride on Perry’s face when he watches Salome sing one of his songs is truly heartwarming.
The movie’s only major misstep is its failure to explore the state of the relationship between Perry and his wife, Karen, in greater detail during the opening act. There’s an implication of underlying tension between the two at the start, but it’s initially unclear if it’s a sign that their marriage is in crisis or if it’s simply due to the stress of rushing to get ready in the morning. This leaves you wondering whether you should be rooting for their reconciliation as Perry plans parties and attempts to discover a temporary escape from his everyday existence. However, it’s a testament to the talent of Billie Joe and Selma Blair and their chemistry together that they manage to clear the question up quite quickly in the final act.
When all is said and done, director Lee Kirk has delivered a very human story here. It’s not about making music or being a washed-up rock star. Rather, Ordinary World is a tale of introspection and making peace with past decisions so that you can take stock of what’s important and look towards a brighter future. You definitely don’t have to be a musician or a Green Day fan to empathise with its protagonist or appreciate the warmth and whimsy engendered by its affable execution.
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