What makes Sid and Nancy a particularly depressing film is that it is based on reality. John Simon Ritchie, better known as Sid Vicious, the bassist for the seminal British punk band The Sex Pistols, was notorious for his onstage acts of self-mutilation. Offstage, he played a Romeo with spiked hair to a Juliet in torn blackmesh stockings—Nancy Spungeon, a whining, spoiled American groupie. Sid’s musical career was short-lived. A heroin addict, he and Nancy spent a bleak winter shivering and throwing up in New York’s Chelsea Hotel, where in 1978 Sid allegedly stabbed Nancy to death. She was 20 years old. Four months later, after a suicide attempt, Sid, 21, died of a heroin overdose. The movie, beginning after Nancy’s death and flashing back to when the two first met, turns the story of Sid (Gary Oldman) and Nancy (Chloe Webb) into one of the strangest starcrossed romances in the history of cinema.
Director Alex Cox (Repo Man) captures the spectacular energy of the punk movement in its formative years, characterized by the lovers’ primal rages and infantile grasping at momentary pleasures. In fact, Cox almost sentimentalizes the pair. The naïve Sid loves pizza and his mother and hates the British establishment. Nancy is a blowsy, ambitious girl from New Jersey whom Sid bumps into on the road to hell. But Cox makes no attempt to explain the rationale of their rebellion, or the roots of punk’s nihilism. And although Oldman and Webb deliver convincing performances, the movie soon runs out of steam. Sid and Nancy become perpetrators of what they claim most victimized them: boredom.
The movie’s chief assets are the rudeness of its punk characters—often howlingly funny—and the affecting intimacy of the romance between Sid and Nancy. But its liabilities are legion. The symbolism of its surreal sequences is excruciating: at one point Sid and Nancy embrace in slow motion in a New York tenement alley with garbage raining down on them. Shapeless, anarchic and vague, Sid and Nancy is ultimately a draining experience. Neither saw a point to living; it is hard to see the point of watching them.
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