Ryan Murphy’s story in Halston for Netflix doesn’t start in hindsight, though it does try. The first image of the five-part miniseries shows the future designer creating for his mother, muse and first model. However, the attempt to humanize the future carefree of the designer knows little. Little Roy is a fragile avatar of the adult and exuberant power of his future personality.
Without hesitation, the script cuts and leaves the notorious door open to the question: what does a man dream of capable of changing American fashion? There is no time for answers. Immediately, the storyline goes back to the beaming 1960s and grown-up Halston (Ewan McGregor) to show his bizarre, glittering path to fame.
The story conceived to tell the story of the American style icon, is a mix of the best and worst of Murphy. This time as a producer, the creator gives the series a polished, flamboyant and opulent air, but doesn’t seem overly interested in his character. That, despite Mcgregor’s magnificent performance.
The actor embodies the most powerful man in the world of American fashion with a mixture of enthusiasm and energy. But there is also darkness in this sophisticated portrait of a man who rebuilt the idea of elegance from the ground up.
McGregor is able to bring depth to even the simplest moments of this fast-paced tour of luxury. But the script does not accompany him at all. Written by Tim Pinckney, Sharr White, Kristina Woo and Ian Brennan, it is unable to sustain the journey between ambition and ultimately, the triumph of the designer.
Halston: a world of radiant dreams
In fact, the entire production is much more interested in showing the spectacular and stellar world that surrounds Halston. With some brushstrokes of his creative process, the plot follows him from his first attempts to create his own style. But it does so from a distant look, which does not delve into Halston’s quirky personality, or his intriguing circle of creators.
On the verge of becoming a style superstar, Murphy’s Halston is a symbol of rebellion. There is something subversive about the way the show portrays the 1960s. Also, a formal search for a certain connotation on the brilliance of debauchery, which for years was the main hallmark of the designer. However, the miniseries fails to find a point of real interest, but tries to explore in so many at the same time that it is by necessity, superficial.
Of course, the series has the inside information and knows that Halston is one step away from becoming the center of all eyes and conversations. So that moment before the definitive success, is presented in the first chapters as an idyll of the designer with his experiments.
She goes from style to style, collection to collection, and muse to muse, until she finally finds the perfect match. But the series does not dwell too long on this interesting process, but is in a hurry to reach the result.
A more critical, emphatic and especially deep look at this youthful Halston, full of energy and willing to take risks, is missed. It is clear that Ryan Murphy is more interested in the man who dazzles than the one who tried to reach the highest point by dint of talent.
Of course, Murphy is a brand unto himself and there’s a lot of that connotation of genius creating his own world in the show. In several of the key scenes, it is evident that Murphy identifies with Halston enough that he is an obvious alter ego.
The way the director / producer / creator follows the evolution of Halston is a tribute to the idea of forging power from the sparkle. And in the same way that television Murphy has managed to create an empire to suit him, his character does so with a clear metafictional homage.
But perhaps it is this excessive identification that prevents the real Halston from being analyzed as an individual. McGregor becomes more and more a reflection of something older, messier and chaotic. And the series, in a series of symbols of beauty and power that do not end up fitting into a single biographical map.
The peak and the fall
Of course, the series not only shows the success of the designer, but for its last three chapters, it carefully analyzes the character’s fall into hell. For the man who created unique, extraordinary and sophisticated products, competition is reinvention. And Murphy tries to show it through a chaos of betrayals, debauchery, drugs, and promiscuity. All elements that the showrunnner handles as a combination of flare and vulgarity that are almost grotesque.
But Roy Halston’s journey is so messy on the surface that the series has no choice but to lose effectiveness and solidity in favor of keeping up. And it does so in several of its highest moments. However, several of its chapters are just a gimmicky display of grand dazzling sets. Parades with ever more elaborate set designs, a runaway Halston and, finally, the predictable debacle.
Even the now iconic Battle of Versailles in 1973 (in which a dream group of American designers faced off against another Frenchman) is lackluster. Halston, destined to be the soul of American triumph, is once again a hostile avatar of Murphy, disdainful of criticism and advice.
The television Murphy (who has received negative criticism in recent years for his work), seems to use Halston as an interlocutor of their discontent. And it does, in perhaps the culminating moment of the series, breaking the structure and the rhythm in favor of a plot twist without much sense.
Perhaps, the most disappointing moments of the series come precisely from that need of its creator to impose his weight and name. As if it were a fight of the titans, the television Halston must fight against Murphy, to achieve a true role in his own plot.
The paradox makes that for its last chapters, the identity of the program seems diluted in something more unpleasant and chaotic. However, Halston manages to vindicate himself in his strange and final chapter, ironically titled “Criticism.” Murphy’s love of fashion, luxury and sophistication make the series a curious mix between ambition, but also a certain gloomy pessimism. Perhaps its lowest point.