‘Beastie Boys Story’ lets the band do the talking

Beastie Boys Apple TV+ Courtesy Photo
Apple TV+/Courtesy

Related Posts

Grade: 4.0/5.0

“Beastie Boys Story,” Spike Jonze’s documentary on the origins and growth of veteran hip-hop group Beastie Boys, was one of the first major casualties of the South By Southwest festival before it was canceled in March because of the coronavirus pandemic. Although initial plans for a premiere at the festival and a limited cinematic release were ultimately nixed, “Beastie Boys Story” had its digital premiere on Apple TV+ on April 24. 

The documentary, which is structured less as a traditional exposé with talking heads and more as a filmed stage talk from band members Michael “Mike D” Diamond and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz, is an impressive release from the streaming service. Although the film struggles to settle on whether it’s meant for those unfamiliar with the band or for diehard Beastie Boys fans, “Beastie Boys Story” succeeds as a heartfelt, earnest ode to the group’s history.

The film sees Diamond and Horovitz take the stage at Kings Theatre in Brooklyn, New York, to tell the story about the Beastie Boys’ formation and gradual success. Accompanied by photographs and videos that play behind the duo as they speak, “Beastie Boys Story” is ultimately just a filmed version of this live recounting, examining through Diamond and Horovitz’s lengthy anecdotes and signature sense of humor the landmark moments in the band’s history. From the group’s debut with its 1986 album Licensed to Ill to its frequent, politically charged public appearances, “Beastie Boys Story” brings brevity to an extraordinary journey through the music industry by keeping the voices of its founding members at its center.

The firsthand narrative element of “Beastie Boys Story” is the film’s greatest asset. As Diamond and Horovitz look back on their inspirations, challenges and breakout success in their youth, they reflect most on the relationships that have shaped them over time. The members don’t discuss their relationship with Adam Yauch, the bassist and Beastie Boys founding member known as “MCA,” until much later in the film, but the moments they dedicate to Yauch ultimately serve as the most crucial, emotional parts of the film. Yauch, who died in 2012 of cancer, is credited with pushing the group to expand its genres and songwriting abilities throughout the group’s tenure. The film treats his individual impact and legacy with the band with a great deal of respect; Horovitz and Diamond let viewers into their professional relationship and their friendship with him in equal parts.

“Beastie Boys Story” isn’t concerned with analyzing the group’s impact and conveying it to the general public. Instead, it takes for granted that its audience knows how important the Beastie Boys were from the get-go. From its opening moments, viewers of this documentary know that the audience members sitting inside Kings Theatre are massive fans of the group, as several provide testimonials on their favorite music, moments and members from the band. 

It’s also in this aspect that “Beastie Boys Story” finds its biggest fault. Diamond and Horovitz’s narration comes across as a sincere but rather formal examination of the band’s history. While this is helpful for viewers who may just be discovering the Beastie Boys and are searching for an overview, fans may be left wanting just a bit more of the personal, irreverent performance style that made the group famous in the first place.

Ultimately, “Beastie Boys Story” more than does its subjects justice — it celebrates them. Fans and newcomers alike can find something to appreciate in Jonze’s supremely reverent tone, which showcases the band at its best throughout its decadeslong journey. The sincerity may come as a surprise in a documentary about a group that built a career off of subverting expectations, but those who are looking for a deep-dive into the band from its founding members themselves are sure to find something to love in “Beastie Boys Story.”

Anagha Komaragiri covers film. Contact her at [email protected]. Tweet her at @aaanaghaaa.