According to The Hollywood Reporter’s Risky Business Blog, director Oren Moverman (The Messenger) is in negotiations with Universal to rewrite and direct the studio’s untitled biopic of Nirvana front man, Kurt Cobain. The film, which will be partially based on the book Heavier Than Heaven: A Biography of Kurt Cobain, was first broached by screenwriter David Benioff (Brothers) in 2007.
The list of great musicians who died before their time is a long one. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison are just a few of the names that immediately spring to mind. While the death of each of these musicians is tragic, there is something unique about Kurt Cobain. Perhaps it is because, more so than any other musician on the “gone too soon” list, Cobain was seen as the voice of his generation. In retrospect, it’s no wonder why.
When they exploded on the national music scene in the early 1990’s, Nirvana struck a major chord with the youth of Generation X. Offering a stripped-down musical style led by Cobain’s rasping vocals and angst-filled lyrics, Nirvana’s music, along with that of the other grunge bands of the day, was more or less a direct response to the egotistical glam metal of the 1970s and 1980s. In a word, it was “real” and it turned Cobain into an unwilling celebrity almost overnight. Of course, Cobain was never very happy being in the spotlight, and his reticence to accept his celebrity, combined with his drug abuse and depression, ultimately led to his suicide in 1994.
Now, does all that make for good drama? Maybe yes, maybe no. As much of a fan of Kurt Cobain’s music as I am, I can honestly say that in the wrong hands a biopic of his life might not be a very interesting film. Luckily, with Moverman on board, that is definitely not the case.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to see Moverman’s first film, last year’s The Messenger, I would highly recommend watching it. While not perfect, the film, which follows two soldiers whose job is to inform next of kin about soldiers’ deaths, is a tremendous directorial debut. Featuring powerful performances by Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson (who was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar), The Messenger demonstrated Moverman’s ability to elicit genuine empathy from the audience through a combination of strong writing and very static, yet purposeful camera work.
In my mind, if Moverman takes the same approach with the Cobain biopic, he could have a major success. By and large, we know the Kurt Cobain story. What we need to see to make the film more than just a conventional music biopic is Cobain’s emotions. We have to be able to feel his tension as he becomes a bigger and bigger celebrity, and then feel his hopelessness as we follow his downward spiral toward suicide. I believe that Moverman is the right director to take audiences on that journey, and I am hopeful that he will reach an agreement with Universal soon.
What do you think of a Kurt Cobain biopic? If you’ve seen The Messenger, do you have any insight on why you think Moverman is right or wrong for this film?