Becoming Bond (Director: Josh Greenbaum): James Bond is one of the most enduring characters in film, and we’re used to seeing a new actor take on the role every few years. But back in 1968, Sean Connery WAS Bond, and the thought of anyone trying to replace him was almost unthinkable. When his replacement turned out to be a male model and former car mechanic from Australia, with no previous acting experience, expectations weren’t very high. And then when new Bond George Lazenby didn’t return after On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the hunt was on again.
Josh Greenbaum’s film allows George Lazenby, now in his mid-70s, to tell his own story of his rise from obscurity, brush with fame and wealth, and ultimate rejection of the Bond mantle. Using re-enactments to liven up what’s essentially a sit-down interview, the film has the feel of a tall tale, with colourful details perhaps embellished a little in Lazenby’s memory. He recalls his childhood and his failure to graduate from high school with a tinge of regret. But the ever resourceful Lazenby spins his job as a car mechanic into a more glamorous and lucrative one actually selling cars. It’s here where he meets the beautiful Belinda, the woman who will turn out to be the great love of his life. He also meets a photographer who encourages him to start modelling, a profession the rugged Lazenby had no idea existed.
After George wins Belinda’s heart, her disapproving father sends her away to England, and Lazenby soon follows. As he tries to rekindle the relationship, he takes up car sales and modelling again and achieves his first taste of fame. The story of how he actually gets the role of Bond is nearly unbelievable, but it’s an entertaining tale. Things don’t go as smoothly with Belinda, and the present day Lazenby shows real regret at letting her get away. Lazenby’s tales of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll do grow a bit tiresome, and you’re just on the verge of being fed up with him when he recounts how he turned down a contract for six more Bond films and a million-dollar bonus. There’s more to the old playboy than meets the eye.
Lazenby doesn’t elaborate too much on the course of his life post-Bond but you get the sense he’s been happy. He might regret a few of his choices, but overall he emerges as someone admirable for choosing his own way instead of the easy path that was offered to him.
Unfortunately, as a film, Becoming Bond wearies the viewer with its constant winking tone and endless re-enactments. There’s almost an element of Austin Powers parodying of the times, and there’s a dearth of archival material that would have given this some much-needed depth. One egregious example is an interview Lazenby did on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Instead of licensing the actual footage, the filmmaker uses actor Dana Carvey to impersonate Carson and it gives the whole thing a carnivalesque feel. Maybe Greenbaum was trying to convey Lazenby’s discomfort with the trappings of fame, but it comes across as an attempt to milk the episode for cheap laughs. It’s a problem that afflicts the whole film. Lazenby’s story is interesting and evokes pathos, but trying to make it more entertaining ends up making it feel shallow.