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"This isn't my father's story. Well, it is, but he's not telling it"—Nick Flynn, Being Flynn
So you're finally getting that biopic made, but you're having some trouble. Maybe your subject is very controversial, maybe there are multiple conflicting accounts of his/her life, or maybe he's just too obscure for the average audience. How do you accquaint your viewers with the subject? You create a co-star and use him as the Audience Surrogate. This is a Sidelong Glance Biopic, so called because it is either unwilling or unable to look the subject straight in the eye.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing, because in many cases the subject of a biopic might not be alive or is in some other way unable to participate in a movie based on his/her life. Using the perpsective of a friend or family member associated with the subject allows a filmmaker to gain details of someone's life without having to ask them directly and to show how their actions impact the lives of others. Besides, when you want to learn the truth about someone, that someone is usually the last person you should ask.
Due to the nature of their screenplays, these biopics more often than not tend to take advantage of Artistic License in their storytelling and are often less historically accurate. Also, if based on a secondary source (biography, memoirs, etc) the main character could easily be an Unreliable Narrator. Also often results in Billing Displacement, where the actor playing the subject is given top billing while the Audience Surrogate is given lower billing, despite usually having more screentime.
Compare The Ishmael, which is a fictional story told in this fashion.
- 300 portrays story of King Leonidas of Sparta as told through the eyes of Dilios, the one survivor of the army that fought at Thermopylae.
- Amadeus tells the story of Mozart through the eyes of the rival who envied his musical genius. Speaking from an insane asylum.
- Being Flynn provides the page quote.
- Ben-Hur is a borderline example, using the events of the Gospel as the background for the story of a Judean nobleman-turned-slave.
- Breach, where the arrest of infamous soviet spy Robert Hanssen is told through the eyes of a young up-and-comer assigned to work in his office.
- Downfall looks at the final days of the life of Adolf Hitler from the perspective of his personal secretary.
- Danny DeVito's Hoffa tells the story of the controversial Teamsters Union leader (played by Jack Nicholson) from the perspective and memories of a fictional friend of his named Robert "Bobby" Ciaro, played by DeVito himself.
- In Martin Scorsese's Hugo, the plot involves the real-life story of film pioneer Georges Melies told through the eyes of the titular orphan boy who lives in a Paris train station and is trying to repair an old automaton owned by his father.
- The Last King of Scotland, where the reign of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin is viewed through the eyes of his Scottish doctor
- The Last Station is about the last days of Leo Tolstoy told from the perspective of a young man hired to be is secretary.
- Me and Orson Welles, where the story of Orson Welles's production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar is told through the eyes of a teenage actor in the production, played by Zac Efron.
- My Week with Marilyn views Marilyn Monroe through the eyes of a Production Assistant she met while working with Laurence Olivier on The Prince and the Showgirl.
- Talk to Me is a biopic about the famous DJ Ralph Waldo "Petey" Greene is told via the story of his producer Dewey Hughes.
- Thirteen Days depicts the Cuban Missile Crisis and John F Kennedy's handling of it from the perspective of his advisor Kenny O'Donnell.
- Velvet Goldmine: a drama that is most definitely not about David Bowie is told form the perspective of a journalist played by Christian Bale.
- The Whole Wide World (1996 film about a woman who meets Robert E Howard) is one of those.