Halston movie review & film summary (2021)


“Halston” shows off McGregor at his most sensitive and sensorial, on a level close to when he played Jesus Christ wandering the desert in the experimental “Last Days in the Desert.” It’s the way that Halston holds his long cigarettes as if made of glass, accompanying impeccably perfect posture. Episode three brings this out especially, with Halston experiencing vivid sense memory as he chooses smells his famous perfume (with an excellently cast Vera Farmiga as a pseudo-therapist and perfumer). It’s the deepest dive the miniseries does into his repressions, and it comes from McGregor’s brilliant, full-bodied take on the character. 

A lot of the series’ later passages, especially in this downfall, show Halston at his most self-sabotaging, focusing on luxury or ego instead of creating. “Fashion moves fast,” as Mahoney says, and the competition with Calvin Klein and other names gets out of Halston’s hands quickly, as do his vices of doing cocaine and blowing deadlines. Such scenes exemplify how McGregor approaches this character with complete empathy, embracing how that factor is needed for an actor, or viewer, to connect with such a character. But “Halston” presses on that a great deal, with numerous examples of his gross exorbitance (flying his dinners on a private jet from Manhattan to Montauk), or his stubbornness as an artist to barely do work. Some viewers may not see him as a hero or an artist, and some might even see the project itself as tone-deaf. That becomes a type of litmus test to sticking with “Halston,” which loves its character deeply but also presents his crash in visceral slow motion. 

But the world around Halston is captivating, with intoxicating, music-driven sequences that capture the grandeur of Halston’s reign in the ’70s, and there’s a stunning recreation of his famous Olympic Tower studio and showroom, a glass castle in New York City overlooking a cathedral. And Minahan has a sure hand with moving Halston between different friendships, unfolding intimate scenes that show how these people have their own lives and would create their own legacies away from him. 

In 2019, Frédéric Tcheng made a documentary about Halston (also titled “Halston”) which would pair nicely with this series. This one seems even less interested in guaranteeing its viewership, or in telling the full story (Tcheng’s doc even has a narrative about a woman, played by Tavi Gevinson, discovering Halston as if he were a secret locked away). In its own way, Minahan’s series handles Halston and his many secrets with adoration, and awe. But he remains an enigma, an appeal that McGregor and this miniseries treat like fashion: you either feel it too, or you don’t. 

Now on Netflix.

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