Olivia Newton-John: Hopelessly Devoted to You (2018)
“Olivia Newton-John conveys her niceness”. This New York Times review of the Australian songstress’ performance at the Metropolitan Opera is one of many recited by Delta Goodrem in the title role of this biopic. It also serves as an adequate review of the biopic itself. Olivia Newton-John: Hopelessly Devoted to You conveys her niceness… and very little else.
Aired over two nights, Newton-John’s career trajectory allows for the first episode to focus on the professional while the second half deals primarily with her personal life. After opening with the filming of Grease (1978), the biopic cues its flashback with an unsubtle “How did I get here?” before spending the next few hours depicting Newton-John as a passenger in her own life story. At each significant juncture of her extraordinary career, Newton-John is coerced by more forceful personalities to take the next step. Her mother encourages her to go to England, The Shadow’s Bruce Welch pushes her to become a Country singer and Allan Carr has to convince her to star in Grease. Newton-John’s personal life is dealt with in the same implausible manner, as she waits for her lovers to end their relationship, long after she herself has realised it is over.
Though the biopic contains many cringe-worthy scenes, squeezing Aussie icons into every possible frame, Goodrem’s renditions of Newton-John’s hits are a definite plus, which makes the decision to only air abridged versions of them all the more frustrating.
Ultimately, the biopic’s answer to the question it posed at the beginning seems to lie in another critique aired during this film… “Olivia Newton-John… What’s that all about?”
Rather than meeting by accidentally roller-skating into each other, Matt Latanzi was introduced to Olivia Newton-John by her Xanadu co-star Gene Kelly.
“What's upsetting is the way it's been done. Not one part of it has come directly from our family, it is completely unauthorised. Nobody asked us to take part or consulted us about accuracy.”
Biopic recreates Grease’s “You’re the One That I Want” as a backlot romp and as an impromptu performance at a wrap party. In its recreation of the title song of Xanadu, footage from the original film is intercut into new footage, with Richard Brancatisano as Matt Lattanzi standing in for Michael Beck (Lattanzi can be briefly glimpsed as a dancer in the original clip). Fortunately, there was no attempt to recreate scenes from Two of a Kind.