For many people who grew up in the 1980s and ’90s, the Beastie Boys had as much influence on the music world as any other superstars. Owing to their unique style and chosen genre, they weren’t consistent hitmakers, but when they delivered something great, it was as memorable as any other song out there.
Beastie Boys Story, the new documentary by director Spike Jonze on Apple TV+, is predictably unlike any other music documentary you’ll ever see. There are no talking heads giving their opinions on the band, coupled with clips of the band through the years. Instead, band members Mike “Mike D” Diamond and Adam “Ad Rock” Horovitz are shown telling the Beastie Boys’ story themselves live on stage over the course of several nights at the Kings Theatre in Brooklyn.
Yes, they show clips of themselves and others over the course of their 30+ year career, but they’re delivered in a style that’s designed to maximize entertainment rather than just recite the facts. Hearing the story straight from the surviving band members’ mouths — founding member Adam “MCA” Yauch died of cancer in 2012 — instead of in a traditional documentary style makes the film immeasurably more impactful.
Diamond and Horovitz are relatively buttoned down in their presentations, but that’s to be expected of two men who are now in their mid-50s. It’s also a great juxtaposition to their admittedly immature younger selves, and the film is full of them calling out themselves and Yauch for being doofuses or disrespectful during their early years.
One’s reaction to the film will likely lie in how invested he or she is in the band itself. For hardcore fans, there likely aren’t any huge revelations. For those, like me, who have always enjoyed the band’s music but never became superfans, there are multiple tidbits that are, if not shocking, hugely interesting.
That includes how the band grew to despise their most famous album, License to Ill, with joke songs like “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party)” and “Girls” taking on a life of their own when the band became successful. Or how Yauch was the driving force of the band, leading them in directions that both defined their uniqueness and maintained their popularity through the years.
Given that Diamond, Horovitz, and Jonze are the ones putting on the show that was turned into the movie, there is no “other side of the story.” So when they detail how Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin, the founders of the Def Jam record label, cheated them out of royalties for License to Ill, it is told without any perspective from Simmons or Rubin. That information would be valuable to know, but wouldn’t necessarily fit in a film like this.
In the end, it’s the reliving of the songs and how they were created that carry the day. “Fight for Your Right,” “No Sleep till Brooklyn,” “So What’cha Want,” “Sabotage,” “Intergalactic,” and more remain as invigorating as when they were first released, even if we only get to hear snippets of most of the songs.
Fans like the ones who packed the Kings Theatre will love Beastie Boys Story the most, but the personalities of Diamond and Horovitz and stories they tell are enough to draw in even non-fans. It might have unimaginable 34 years ago, but the Beastie Boys are elder music statesmen worthy of veneration in a great documentary like this.
Beastie Boys Story premieres on Apple TV+ on April 24.