Review of Netflix biographical mini-series, ‘Halston’

May 21, 2021 Mario Bautista 264 views

‘HALSTON’ is a five-episode biographical miniseries on Netflix based on the book “Simply Halston” by Steven Gaines about the life and times of designer Roy Halston. This is produced and co-written by Ryan Murphy, who became a very successful producer after such long-running hits as “Glee”, “Nip/Tuck” and “American Horror Story”.

Most writers now would pan his works, calling it trashy and mediocre, but even if some of them maybe so (like “Ratched” and “Hollywood”), we still find them fun to watch if you wouldn’t take them so seriously. They have splendid production values and a very entertaining style of storytelling in all their over-the-top trashiness, like “Hollywood” and “Ratched”. But then, that’s just us.

“Halston” starts with a scene showing him as a little boy who witnesses his dad’s cruelty to his battered mom. Then it quickly shows his rise to fame as the pillbox hat he made for Jackie Kennedy at the 1961 JFK inauguration became a big hit with the ladies. He also dressed up Liza Minelli who won the Oscar for “Cabaret”. A highlight of the show’s first episode is Liza (played by amazing lookalike Krysta Rodriguez) performing the splashy showstopping song number “Liza with a Z”.

Halston continues to gain fame and the highlight of the second episode is his triumph in the fashion show at the Palace of Versailles in France where he eclipsed other well-known designers like Oscar de la Renta, Anne Klein, etc. In the 3rd episode, we see his business booming as he branches out to designing other items like luggage and a signature perfume for women in 1975 that became a blockbuster.

In the 4th episode, we see Halston getting more and more hooked with cocaine, along with his Latino lover, Victor Hugo (Gian Franco Rodriguez). He collaborates with big businessmen and branched out into retailing by designing clothes for the store for the masses, J.C. Penny, eventually losing his brand name to his business associates.

In the final episode, Halston has become so full of himself, neglecting his work and commitments and getting more addicted to substance abuse. He breaks up with his lover who has become such an abusive parasite who even blackmails him and shares his most intimate secrets with the press. He leaves the city that saw him succeed, New York, and moves to California.

By that time, he has already contracted AIDS and the epilogue said he died in 1990 without ever getting his name back from big business. So that the show won’t end on his life having such a miserable conclusion, he is shown to have a final moment of victory when he designed the costumes of the ballet, “Persephone”, for his good friend, dance guru Martha Graham. He was expecting his work to be lambasted but the critics loved it and praised him to high heavens.

The series shows not only his friendship with Liza but also with fashion icons, Elsa Peretti (Rebecca Dayan), a top jewelry designer, and Joe Eula (David Pittu), his loyal illustrator. Also giving excellent support are Rory Culkin as Joel Schumacher (who later becomes a hotshot film director), Vera Farmiga as the fragrance designer from Max Factor, and Sullivan Jones as Halston’s black lover, Ed.

The series, as directed by Daniel Minahan and co-written by Ryan Murphy himself, paints an empathetic picture of Halston but they cannot just hide the fact that somewhere along the way, Halston has become a self-centered monster so full of hubris that you would not want to work with. He certainly deserves the downfall that he himself engineered. It almost feels like that he wanted to sabotage himself and his own career.

What puts the whole show together (and even redeems it from being forgettable) is the compelling performance of Ewan McGregor in the title role. The Scottish actor has just turned golden boy last March and this is a career-best kind of performance that we’re sure the Emmy’s will notice.

It’s a finely nuanced performance, even in the way he holds his cigarettes. Ewan fully inhabits the role whether he’s snorting cocaine, chain smoking in every scene, getting humped by various partners, throwing around his big ego with his scandalously extravagant lifestyle, and throughout the show, exhibiting his arrogant genius in cutting and designing the dazzling creations he puts on his models.

He has given acclaimed portrayals in such films as “Moulin Rouge”, “Trainspotting” and as the young Obi Wan Kenobi in the “Star Wars” prequels but he has never won an Oscar or an Emmy. At least, he has won a Golden Globe for “Fargo”, the TV series, but the Golden Globe is now under fire and Tom Cruise has even returned his Golden Globe awards. We last saw him in “Doctor Sleep”, a fairly involving sequel to “The Shining”, but it didn’t do so well at the tills.

“Halston” has exquisite production design, from the fabulous coutoure worn by various models through different decades, to the interiors of Halston’s Manhattan glittering showrooms and the then notorious Studio 54 disco. It also shows fashion history, like how Elsa Peretti designed the famous Halston teardrop perfume bottle inspired by a necklace she wore.

His business partners were against it but Halston insisted on it and was proven right because some folks are buying the product only for the bottle. Overall, the show works for us. This is a limited series where the central character’s life, ascent and decline are shown in bullet points that balances well Halston’s successes and excesses without overstaying its welcome, unlike other series that is needlessly stretched on and on for 10 or 12 tedious episodes.

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