Now more than ever, Hollywood is obsessed with musical biopics and biographical dramas about famous brands. Spinning Gold is a bit of both. The film explores the early days of Kiss and Donna Summer, two names you surely know. You might not be as familiar with Neil Bogart, who helped launched their careers through Casablanca Records. This is Bogart’s movie and everyone else is just living in it. It’s a lovingly made tribute to Bogart from his son Timothy, who serves as a writer, producer, and director. However, the filmmakers at times bite off more than they can chew, juggling so many music legends in just over two hours.
It isn’t a coincidence that the founder of Casablanca Records shares the same name as Humphrey Bogart. He was born Neil Bogatz and changed his name a few times before landing on Bogart. The film opens with Bogart telling the audience that everything about the ensuing story is true, including the parts that aren’t. At this point, we’re used to biopics taking liberties for the sake of pure romanticism. Whether or not the film is entirely historically accurate, it captures the spirit of an overly ambitious artist betting on his own instincts. However, the film could’ve done more to play up the unreliable narrator angle. Rather than provide a look behind the curtain, the rose-tinted glasses remain on throughout.
Broadway loyalists and fans of Smash will recognize Jeremy Jordan, who plays Bogart here. Jordan has also taken center stage in other films like The Last Five Years. Spinning Gold commits some of Jordan’s best work to the screen. While he’s hunkier than the Bogart we see in the archival footage played over the credits, Jordan’s charisma carries much of the film. Bogart knows how to pick talent, but the indie record entrepreneur struggles to market said talent. Early on, he books Kiss a gig playing in front of a classy casino lounge, which isn’t exactly the right demographic for white makeup, smoke machines, and untamable tongues. Even as Kiss finds an audience, Bogart somehow finds himself deeper and deeper in debt. Bogart insists that his numerous gambles will pay off as panic seeps through his poker face.
While Bogart is an intriguing central figure, those around him feel shortchanged. During his opening monologue, Bogart introduces us to his partners-in-crime at the label, but we can’t remember any of their names by the end. It helps that the cast, which includes Jay Pharoah, Dan Fogler, and Lyndsy Fonseca, all know how to make the most of their screen time even when the dialogue isn’t there. The same goes for Tayla Parx as Donna Summer and Casey Likes as Gene Simmons. There isn’t a weak link in the ensemble, but the film’s priorities reside with Bogart.
With virtually every music biopic these days, the consensus seems to be that the story might’ve worked better as a miniseries. Spinning Gold continues this trend. Had the filmmakers dedicated individual episodes to Bogart’s relationships with Kiss, Summer, his co-workers, and his family, this could’ve been solid gold. As a film, it barely even has time to mention that he worked with Village People, speedrunning to the grand finale. Even if the film only scratches the surface, the music is invigorating, the performances are strong, and you’ll be left wanting to learn more about everybody involved. It’s flawed, but bronze isn’t anything to scoff at.