Ricky Nelson: Original Teen Idol (1999)
Despite a relatively short film career, Ricky Nelson did manage to co-star in what many consider one of the best westerns ever made. Nevertheless, his role in Rio Bravo opposite John Wayne and Dean Martin only rates a brief mention in this biopic. Instead it rightly focuses on the television show spawned by his movie debut in Here Come the Nelsons, and his subsequent success in the early days of rock and roll.
However those days seem long gone when we first encounter the 45 year-old performing to a small crowd in an out of the way bar. His flight's delay to the next gig gives a fan the chance to reminisce with him as they pore over her Ricky Nelson scrapbook. Cue flashback to the set of ‘The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet’, a long-running sitcom in which Nelson’s family played fictionalised versions of themselves. Though father Ozzie appeared to be a bit of a goof on-screen, behind the scenes he was the brains of the outfit, often mining his family’s life for the episodes he wrote and directed. So when Ricky revealed his musical talent, it was almost a given that Ozzie would have him singing on the show before his son’s first single was released. Notwithstanding the benefit Ricky’s career enjoyed from the sitcom’s exposure, his popularity soon exceeded the platform that launched him, further complicating a father-son relationship already strained by the family business.
This surprisingly entertaining biopic from VH1 overcomes its standard framing thanks to some good performances, nice period detail and Ricky Nelson’s music. A suitably fresh-faced Gregory Calpakis gives an engaging performance as Nelson while Jamey Sheridan lends solid support as his controlling father. The contrasting scenes of comical domestic bliss played out before the cameras and the frayed relationships behind the scenes serve this film well. Less successful are later scenes dealing with Nelson’s fall from grace, in which his drug use is only hinted at. Also omitted is his aforementioned role in Rio Bravo and his later hit ‘Garden Party’ which would have ideally encapsulated Nelson’s struggles to shake off his teen idol image.
Presumably the filmmakers realised "ya can't please everyone, so ya got to please yourself".
Plenty of Pleasantville-like pastiches to the television sitcom 'The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet' but no scene recreations from Nelson’s film career. Roles in Rio Bravo and Love & Kisses are referenced.