May 25, 2024

HALSTON (2021) – Sex, cocaine, and the rise and fall of an American fashion icon

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Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ 1/2

Like so many biography of famous people, the story of American fashion designer Halston, takes us briefly from his unhappy childhood roots to his phenomenal success only to ultimately be met by failure. Once again the lure of sex, drugs and other excesses that comes along with the attainment of wealth, provide the basis of Halston’s downfall. Halston’s success takes place during the disco era of the 1970’s so the series brings out the nostalgia with its sets and costume designs and music.

British actor Ewan McGregor gives us one of this career best performance here in this Netflix limited series as the flamboyant iconic Roy Halston Frowick. We can see the transformation of Halston’s attitude and character as he moves up and down the ladder of success. When comparing the documentaries and images of the real Halston with Ewan, we can appreciate his skill in capturing Halston’s persona not only in appearance but also in his mannerism and voice. He also shows an impressive range and raw vulnerability in some key moments. Halston is someone who we can call larger than life and Ewan manages to portray this perfectly. He is supported by an amazing assemble cast. Most impressive being Krysta Rodiguez who plays Halston’s long time and very close friend, the famous Liza Minnelli. Liza is again someone who has very strong personality and presence, and it is not easy to portray. Krysta looks and sound like the young Minnelli and even gets to perform her trademark song and dance number “Liza with a Z” in its entirety to perfection. Vera Farmiga has a small but memorable role as a perfume expert who has several close sessions with Halston. She was very convincing as an expert in perfumes as well as an impromptu psychologist. Her scenes with Ewan were one of the most quiet and emotionally charged. The rest of the cast playing real life people who surrounded themselves around Halston during his life were all very well performed and too numerous to relay here.

Ewan McGregor vs the real Halston

The film’s production standard is also very high as it puts in so much efforts to reproduce the sets and clothing designs that matches the real thing. Halston’s amazing office in Olympic Tower in Fifth Avenue, New York looks identical to the real office based on archived photos, complete with the stunning views! The disco era is also gloriously given its tribute with a great song selection and the partying scenes in the infamous Studio 54 club. Being a Ryan Murphy production usually means excesses in designs, and heavy gay elements. Surprisingly, he seem to have held back on the over indulgence here, which allowed the story to take on centre stage and not be overshadowed by unnecessary over sensationalism. Halston’s life itself is sensational enough without the need to be spiced up any further.

By the time the final act comes on in the fifth episode you really feel a bit exhausted by the excesses and the emotional rollercoaster life that Halston had. It has all the elements of an epic tale and with a closure that shows respect to the man despite the mistakes he had made through his life. If there is anything I would like to have seen bit more covered by the series is his relationship with his mother which was clearly shown as being an influence on his work. However, his relationship (if any) to his mother during his adult life was never touched upon, apart from the time when his mother passed away.

Halston is powerful biography of yet another flawed famous personality. There is so much to cover in his life that a limited mini series format is the perfect media that can do it justice. For those who cannot get enough of the man and his fashion, you can check out a recent feature length documentary of his similarly titled Halston. Made by French film maker, Frederic Tcheng, this documentary was premiered in the 2019 Sundance Film Festival to generally positive reviews. I have not seen this yet but recommend it as a supplementary material to Ewan McGregor’s version here.

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