You Can't Always Get What You Want

Washington City Paper | April 7, 2006
Originality also isn’t much of a priority in Stoned, the directorial debut of longtime British film producer Stephen Woolley. The movie is essentially Last Days: Brian Jones Edition—or at least that’s what it’d like to be. Jones’ 1969 death, apparently by swimming pool, came just days after he was sacked from the Rolling Stones and has been fodder for speculation ever since. A coroner deemed it “death by misadventure.” Was it murder? An accident? A suicide?

Well, in 1993, someone stepped up to demystify the whole thing, and this is the story that’s considered in Stoned. Fans of the band expecting some portrayal of Jones’ musical life before the tragedy should stay away: Not only do the naked breasts of various women appear more frequently than Mick (Luke de Woolfson) and Keef (Ben Whishaw), there’s also not one original Stones song on the soundtrack. Instead, Woolley gives us Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” during, yes, a montage of an LSD-fueled bacchanal. And “Ballad of a Thin Man”—performed by Kula Shaker, not Bob Dylan—anchored by the lyric “You know something is happening, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?” It comes in during Jones’ firing due to his increasing drug use and declining work ethic. Subtle.

In fact, anyone who’s expecting a solid telling of a talented man’s self-destruction should stay away, too. He will also know something’s happening, but he won’t know what it is, either. Or, rather, he won’t care. Scripters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade—the duo responsible for 2003’s Rowan Atkinson vehicle Johnny English (!)—draw Jones (Leo Gregory, in a bad wig) as a personality-free caricature. He’s a dull slop of a man in a dull slop of a story: Though Stoned takes place primarily during the three months before Jones’ death, the film occasionally jumps randomly in time, to flashbacks containing assorted ill-defined and/or unrecognizable characters. Sometimes they’re accompanied by Jones’ narration (“I was always my own worst enemy”) as he chats with his live-in handyman/baby sitter/potential murderer, Frank Thorogood (Paddy Considine). More often, though, these snippets of the past are presented as if they were self-explanatory. Their insertion would be jarring if there were a smooth narrative to interrupt.

Stoned instead ends up being more or less 102 minutes of Jones’ getting high. And drunk. And laid, with the rock star’s cruelty to Thorogood—demanding he redo a wall he just built or promising him a romp with Jones’ girl if he drops and gives ’em 50—sometimes interrupting the debauchery. The script hints that a broken relationship with Anita Pallenberg (Monet Mazur), who immediately became involved with Keith Richards, might have been a factor in Jones’ downfall.

But the blond Pallenberg here seems indistinguishable from Jones’ subsequent, more casual girlfriend, the blond Anna Wohlin (Tuva Novotny). Anna eventually leaves, too, telling Jones that he “cahn’t hahndle the drugs....You just fade away.” And as if to demonstrate, there too fades Novotny’s Swedish accent—weird, given that she’s really Swedish. Death by misadventure, indeed.

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