Fame is asked for by some and thrust upon many. We like to think there are only a select few that truly achieved stardom, but in today’s world fame can come from many different angles. Being a musician isn’t a newfound form of fame, but the way Machine Gun Kelly harbors it is something that can be uniquely his even if he doesn’t see it that way. For all the tabloids and prejudgments many have of the artists, there are not too many that can say they actually know the man. Born Colson Baker, Machine Gun Kelly is not just an alter ego for him, but it they have become one in the same. What does one do with this belief when the artist and created image form one identity? Well they do what do best, continue to create art in every regards. TAURUS directed by Tim Sutton is basically Machine Gun Kelly’s own version of “Last Days” the 2005 Gus Van Sant film focusing on the final days of Kurt Cobain (even if the name is never mentioned specifically). Colson takes it a little further and more personally by playing an altered version of himself and using his own name. A part therapy, part experimental film TAURUS invites us to get to really see Colson Baker the man as well as the image, while also speaking out in the best way he can about those that came before him and died too suddenly. It is easy to call it a cautionary tale (because it is one) but it is allowing him to yell into the void on his own time. To not just be a product of gossip magazines and twitter trending. We are on his terms now as messy as they may be.
When TAURUS opens up it is difficult to decipher if we are already seeing things through the eyes of MGK. Starting on a young boy who wanders downstairs to his parents only to show them a gun he has found quickly becomes an unsettling and provocative moment that will carry throughout. Is this young child a memory of Baker himself? Even when we are given the answer that it is not there is still a lingering feeling that there is some truth to this in Baker’s own life. But instead after the opening credit screams at us we are brought into the world of Colson (again an alternate version of the real Colson) who spends his days living in the mansion his record company has given him to clear his head to allow him to make more music. When he isn’t home he engages in abusive alcohol intake and drug use forcing his assistant Ilana (a captivating Maddie Hasson) to drag him to his required meetings and recording sessions. Colson however works on his own time as seen when an up and coming singer Lena (Naomi Wild) is disturbed during a nighttime bath to rush to the studio to record background vocals for Colson. Colson hidden by his messy bleach blonde hair knows exactly the sound he is looking for and one thing the film never ventures away from is showing that amongst the mess is a talented artist.
The film wears “Last Days” on its sleeve again but being more experimental with its avoidance of traditional plot. Anyone looking for the Machine Gun Kelly biopic will be greatly disappointed. Scenes blend into one another and as Colson dives deeper into his drugs use Sutton and cinematographer John Brawley use the medium at its disposal to show an intense look at his addiction that is never eye rolling or belittling. A scene involving Colson piss drunk wandering the busy streets of L.A. is done through close ups and great sound editing that makes you cringe in your seat for all the right reasons. This is never a film where the audience wants to yell some sense into the addict, but instead allow him to go through his process. This process also involves barely acknowledging his young daughter Rose (Avery Tiiu Essex), hiring an escort to do drugs with (Sara Silva) and reconnecting and redestroying his relationship with his own true love (Megan Fox in an unnamed role basically playing out their own very public relationship).
Thankfully TAURUS never screams vanity project. Colson as both a character and real life person is never trying to steal the attention and reward his behavior. A scene involving him berating Ilana is highly uncomfortable and highly accurate in the world of boss to assistant relationships. Ilana comes back to him not as a victim, but as someone who won’t stand for the behavior but still worries and knows where this can all end up. In an extended Q&A given at the Tribeca Film Festival Baker himself explains how even he wanted scenes to be cut that felt too hard hitting or exposing too much, but for the sake of the art and self evaluation kept them in at Suttons demand. A smart move allowing the film to have even the biggest die hard MGK fan question his behavior. Speaking of MGK as a musician the film’s score (scored by Baker himself) feels like something out of a Harmony Korrine movie. It blares through during heightened moments and seeks under the skin during more intimate ones. Baker never feels the need to have his own songs carry the film, and while there are two moments where he plays original songs it never feels like it is trying to sell you an accompanied album. TAURUS for all its specificity falters in some conventional areas. It ventures towards traditional storytelling to wrap up its more experimental ideas and some if its supporting cast feels like they were there just because they are Baker’s own friends who happened to be in his trailer on shooting days, (shoutout to a wonderful scene featuring Demetrius “Lil Meech” Flenory who made his name and deep voice known in this past season of Euphoria). For all the musicians who eventually put themselves on screen it is both surprising and unsurprising that MGK comes out stronger. He is an artist that even if you don’t care for his music or persona is trying to put his hands in many fields. Never hindering himself to one idea this film feels like a therapy session but not a one time deal. There may soon be more cinematic work for Machine Gun Kelly in the future allowing both him, his fans and even his haters to know that pain is good, embrace it and release the chaos.
TAURUS SCREENED AT THE TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL AND WILL BE RELEASED LATER THIS YEAR BY RLJE FILMS