Nico, 1988 Movie Review: Both Simplistic and Unsentimental

A sublime biopic carried by Trine Dyrholm who excels as the late famed musician.
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During the opening montage of Nico, 1988, the song “These Days” starts playing over it. A song that may be familiar to anyone who’s seen The Royal Tenenbaums and which might be the titular singer’s best-known song because of that movie. Even though Nico might not be familiar to modern audiences, the film Nico, 1988 makes a strong case as to why more people should know her story. It is a simplistic yet unsentimental depiction of an artist who had a passion for music even when it became difficult to hold onto it.

Nico, 1988 follows the last three years of the life of Christa Naffger aka Nico (Trine Dyrholm). During those three years, she went on a tour across Europe arranged by her new manager. She also attempted to battle her personal demons while repairing her relationship with her estranged son.

All those events are depicted at a tight 93 minutes which ends up being both beneficial and a slight hindrance. On the one hand, it didn’t need to be much longer because the film would’ve ended up having scenes used as time filler. On the other hand, because it was super short, there are key plot points that aren’t as explored as much as they should be. The bond between Nico and her son particularly isn’t explored enough. Although it isn’t introduced until around the third act, it still could’ve been fleshed out a bit more. There are also flashback sequences thrown in rather frenetically and which almost force the film to undergo biopic trappings. 

However, it feels like the biopic’s main intention is to showcase Nico’s tireless passion for music which, as it turns out, was literally tireless. In her last years, she may have been past her prime and her voice might not have been what it used to be. But she still gave it her all up on that stage and sang her heart out. The film also shows how Nico struggled with addiction but doesn’t go deeper into that plot point in order to avoid an exploitative depiction of her condition. The movie's simplicity is what allows it to overshadow the few biopic machinations that it depicts. 

Of course, credit should also go to the actress playing the famed musician. Trine Dyrholm is a commanding presence and gives a portrayal that is in sync with the film’s unsentimental nature. As she demonstrates Nico’s personal demons, she never begs for our sympathy. Dyrholm also portrays Nico’s fierce commitment to her music by expertly acting out her musical performances. Surely, it is one of the best performances of the year.

Trine Dyrholm’s performance is the glue that holds Nico, 1988 together. She manages to be the bright spot of what is a simplistic yet impactful biopic. Neither agenda-driven nor mawkish, Nico, 1988 is both a celebration of Nico’s music and a portrait of her showing commitment to her music even when it eventually became hard to. 

Magnolia Pictures will release Nico, 1988 in theaters August 1, 2018

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