Sid and Nancy

April 27, 2012

Sid and Nancy, a harrowing version of a doomed punk love story, is often unpleasant, but that it works at all is rather remarkable.

Near the beginning of Sid and Nancy, a barker stands on a seedy London street corner encouraging passers-by to enter a sleazy club. After giving his litany of degraded attractions, he shouts, “It is worth it?”—then, lowering his voice and looking into the camera, he says, “Yes it is.”

That seems to be writer-director Alex Cox’s nod to the inevitable criticism of his film—that its subject matter is too horrible to watch. It’s about the pathetic love story between Sid Vicious, the bassist for the standard-bearing punk band the Sex Pistols, and his American girlfriend, Nancy Spungeon. She died at his hands; a few months later he was dead of an overdose.

The film documents this with surprising wit, but never glosses over the violence and squalor of the scene. Sid (played by Gary Oldman) and Nancy (Chloe Webb) are sad creatures, but Cox does not condescend to or romanticize them (and they are superbly acted). Cox also infuses his movie with black humor, but of a kind that captures the horror of his characters’ lives (rather than the smart-alecky humor of his first film, Repo Man).

And his ending, in which Sid finds a pizza place located somewhere on the edge of eternity, is beautiful. This film is sad and distasteful, but in many ways extraordinary. It is worth it? For the strong of stomach, yes, it is.

First published in the Herald, November 1986

This is a short review; it must have been a busy week for openings, as this number ran with similarly brief takes on 52 Pick-Up and Modern Girls. I haven’t seen it since it came out, so I don’t know whether I would still call Chloe Webb’s performance superb—maybe just an excellent case of casting. A rather special film in 1986, I have to say–it came out at just the right moment. I wrote Oldman’s name back then as “Gary Oldham,” but who knew?