(USA, 90 min.)
Dir. Josh Greenbaum
Programme: Singular Sensations (International Premiere)
George Lazenby is the punchline for the biggest and best series the film world has ever seen. He’s the only actor in the 007 franchise to play James Bond once—David Niven’s outing in the spoof Casino Royale doesn’t count—and his performance as the suave secret agent was the worst until the eternally bland Roger Moore outdid him in the ‘70s.
Lazenby’s performance might be forgettable, but his career trajectory is not. Becoming Bond lets Lazenby describes his journey from humble Australian used car salesman to London male model to 007. It’s a breezy and enjoyable portrait doc best enjoyed with a vodka martini.
Lazenby still has the Bond charm. Now in his late seventies, the Aussie seems more comfortable in front of a camera than he did in his first professional acting gig playing Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969). As a subject, Lazenby is charismatic and captivating. He’s a consummate storyteller and one doesn’t need to be a Bond fan to appreciate the funny and energetic account of his life’s story. In fact, relatively little of the documentary actually discusses his stint as 007. Greenbaum lets Lazenby go on and on about his childhood and teen years. This half-baked puff piece takes nearly an hour to get to the chase.
However, the needlessly expository nature of Becoming Bond makes for decent viewing since Lazenby relishes the chance to revisit his youth, particularly in the episodes in which he recalls discovering sex and chasing after girls. Lazenby’s hounddog ways lead him to Belinda, the daughter of an upper-class family and his first big love. The bulk of Becoming Bond chronicles the dynamics of this on-again, off-again relationship and the Belinda years offer the one moment of genuine clarity when Lazenby shakes his Bond persona and wipes away tears for lost love.
Greenbaum pairs the interview with some frisky dramatic scenes that recreate Lazenby’s life. Actor Josh Lawson plays Lazenby with youthful swagger while Kassandra Clementi assumes the role of Belinda and gives the audience a palpable sense of the kind and beautiful woman who made such an impression on the future 007. The dramatic scenes feature some uproarious cameos including Jeff Garlin as Canadian producer Harry Saltzman, Dana Carvey as a spot-on Johnny Carson, and former Bond Girl Jane Seymour playing the socialite who first eyed Lazenby for 007. (Seymour’s saucy performance is the highlight of the film.) Greenbaum shows more confidence with the dramatic side of Becoming Bond than he does with the documentary aspects—the hybrid film is arguably more fiction than non-fiction—and these amiable comedy scenes are 007 for the Mad Men era as the director runs with the obvious embellishments of Lazenby’s story.
The degree to which Becoming Bond relies on extensive dramatic fodder, however, can’t disguise the thinness of the material. The doc doesn’t ask Lazenby any tough questions and maybe there aren’t any hard queries to be had. Greenbaum lets Lazenby do the talking and Becoming Bond skews its portrait by consequence. For example, one might leave Becoming Bond thinking that Lazenby only stepped before the camera once in his life. While he made only one Bond movie, the film gives no mention to the seventy-odd credits that followed in Lazenby’s career. These credits include the pet project Universal Soldier, which Lazenby starred in, co-wrote and executive produced shortly after OHMSS, as well as numerous recent credits proving that he’s still active in Hollywood. Any familiarity with Lazenby’s career, or even a cursory glance at his IMDb credits, reveals a disconnect between the actor’s career as it is and the way Becoming Bond presents it.
Lazenby and Greenbaum both seem comfortable with doing a softball interview. While it makes for fun viewing, Becoming Bond doesn’t amount to much else. If only Miss Moneypenny could increase the stakes.
Becoming Bond screens:
-Wednesday, May 3 at TIFF Lightbox at 8:30 PM
-Thursday, May 4 at Isabel Bader at 3:45 PM
-Friday, May 5 at TIFF Lightbox at 7:00 PM