Washed-up ex-boyband musician Vince (Ed Skrein) begins an impromptu jam session one day in London with autistic drummer Stevie (Leo Long), which leads to both of them deciding to write and perform music together. While their differences initially clash, both come to depend on each other as they realise they're both misunderstood and just trying to find themselves again...
Despite the fact that it's much, much more common than people realise, there's rarely been a sharp, incisive look at the downward slope from fame, or the desperate clawing to get back to it either. 'I Used To Be Famous' may position itself initially as a story about post-fame and the indignity that comes with, but really it's just a straightforward tale of redemption through music - something much more common.
Ed Skrein plays the role of Vinny D, a former member of early aughts boyband wonder Stereo Dream, who has hit the skids and is now carrying a keyboard around Peckham, trying his best to land a live gig somewhere and surviving on free lunches at church jumble sales. The manner in which he meets Stevie, an autistic teenager who is also a gifted drummer, may initially feel just a little bit too twee, but that's really what 'I Used To Be Famous' is all about. It's a simple, sentimental, softly made movie that has an earnest approach that you can't really take fault with.
Indeed, the cast themselves are all on the same wavelength. Ed Skrein is able to play the shiftless ex-boybander who still dreams of success and believes the power of music, even though it's long since been silent for him. Whether he's in an unemployment office describing himself "more Lennon than McCartney" or dying his hair blonde to appear somewhat closer to his youth, you can snigger all you want at it, but he's trying his best and it's done earnestly. Eoin Macken, meanwhile, plays the far more successful member of his band, who is himself on the verge of retirement from his solo career and seeking a new direction in his life. Leo Long is equally earnest in his approach, and it all helps to buoy 'I Used To Be Famous' in such a way that it never slips into maudlin or darker territory.
'I Used To Be Famous' has its limitations, of course. The story is as predictable as you can get, and while it's set inside the world of professional music and post-fame lives, it doesn't really have anything particularly exciting or original to say about any of it. Ed Skrein's character carries a certain amount of sorrow with him from his time, not because of being away from the limelight, but from what it cost him. Again, 'I Used To Be Famous' never quite lets it sit with this, instead moving it on and keeping the lighter, more positive side.
None of it is particularly revelatory or exceptional, but it has a steady beat and the performances match it throughout. In the end, 'I Used To Be Famous' is solid, accessible, and easily charming - just a like a pop hit.