Rather than subject the masses to another talking head laden hagiography or, worse, a paint-by-numbers biopic, longtime Beastie Boys collaborator Spike Jonze has created a mixed media doc exploring the iconic trio in Beastie Boys Story.

The documentary began as a live tour adapting the book of the same name into a stage show. In this filmed version, taken from the final date of the tour and intermingling more actual B-roll, surviving Beasties Michael “Mike D” Diamond and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz turn their life story into a dual monologue, with the occasional interjection from Jonze off-stage. The unconventional project allows for a more intimate look at the group’s history without getting bogged down by the requisite “praise from peers”/”stating the obvious”/”Behind The Music” approach so many other music docs tend to take.

To die-hard fans of the boys, the film doesn’t offer anything groundbreaking, most likely saving a lot of the texture and detail for the book itself, also coming out this spring. The group has such a wild origin story, one that traverses so many genres and eras, that merely tracking their ascent and evolution is narrative enough for a feature. Also, given the live audience make-up (a largely white crowd that popped hard for mention of Luscious Jackson drummer/Beasties founding member Kate Schellenbach but seemed to have no idea who Full Force was) it’s clear that some of the broader ‘80s rap culture nods may as well be deep dive ephemera, anyway.

Instead, it feels like a straightforward yet playful confessional from two talented guys reliving their crazy history through a more matured gaze. Horovitz, in particular, displays such a stirring mixture of genuine nostalgia and wizened regret. It never feels like the guys are being pretentious or thumbing their nose at their youthful counterparts, but there’s an appropriate level of introspection on display, both for their professional foibles and personal missteps. It’s refreshing to see.

But as entertaining and touching as the two men are, the chasm left on stage in Adam “MCA” Yauch’s absence makes the entire affair feel grossly incomplete. He makes short appearances in archival interview footage, but it’s heartbreaking missing out on his perspective in the present day. Also, while it’s largely a boon that there’s no modern day segments interviewing other folks about the Beasties, there are a handful of figures it might have been fun to hear from. Particularly, the dichotomy between the college dorm Rick Rubin the group met as kids and the aged wizard guru of 2020 would have been fascinating to underline alongside their own changes.

But all told, the group’s journey from punk kids to hip hop megastars back to alt-rock veterans and everywhere in between makes for compelling cinema, even in this curious format melding the DIY aesthetic of their youth to a more experienced sense of creation. It’s one of the sweeter things Jonze has proffered in his career and it’s clear no one else could bring this story to the stage or the big screen.

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