Netflix’s Halston fails to capitalize on the star power of its designer, its cast, or its costumes, failing to create empathy for the famous Halston, despite Ewan McGregor’s best efforts in a memorable role.
This review of Netflix limited series Halston contains no spoilers.
Watching the trailer for Netflix’s Halston, the newest from executive producer Ryan Murphy, felt like a fever dream. Ewan McGregor, with slicked hair and indoor sunglasses, telling multiple people to go f**k themselves? That sounds like a winning combination. But in reality, the miniseries fails to transcend the basic biopics, creating a character that suffers from his own ego, a dramatization lacking the drama to propel it beyond initial glamour.
Starring McGregor as the eponymous Halston, the five-episode limited series follows the events of Roy Halston Frowick’s life from the early 1960s through his death in 1990. Expansive in nature but microscopic in execution, the show, from creator/writer Sharr White and director Daniel Minahan, tracks the number of real-life events from the Battle of Versailles Fashion Show to the rise and fall of Halston’s brand as a designer of women’s clothing. It remains fascinating often when McGregor as Halston plays off these other lived-in characters, like Krysta Rodriguez’s energetic portrayal of Liza Minnelli, a bright spot in a series filled with unpleasantness and unwarranted, undeserved drama.
Still, Halston’s trailer gave away the meat of the show, which contains emptiness in droves, time spent hearing Halston yell at others, watching the designer sulk in corners, and observe a man throw away his talent, his community and his success. The performances, specifically from a hammed-up McGregor and an endlessly charming Rodriguez, salvage the series, showing how fun this biopic can be, revealing the potential of this series if they released the reins and dove into the absurdity of this story and the high-end fashion industry.
The five episodes end up like a bell curve, reaching a height of success during the third episode, the same height reached by the designer being depicted. Halston goes from relative newcomer thrust onto the stage by Jackie Kennedy to a household name over the course of a decade, largely due to the fragrance of the series’ strongest episode, an in-depth process on how these specific smells are connected. “The Sweet Smell of Success” offers a view of Halston unmitigated by profanity-laden tirades and cocaine-filled days, providing empathy in spades, an element lacking throughout the series. And it features a shining minor role for Vera Farmiga as a fragrance specialist, a job that seems too specific to be fake.
By the end of the series, Halston is a mess, and Halston is a bore, a series built around an eccentric figure that can’t bank on his intrigue or mystique. The flowy dresses and glitzy parties only take the show so far, and after over 200 minutes of content depicting McGregor’s Halston, you want to spend time elsewhere. He lacks redemption and final acceptance, a character that’s missing a relatable fiber. Instead, you grow tired of the designer and his fits of childish rage, as watching a man throw his life away doesn’t satisfy the expectations set by the logline, the trailer, or even each episode’s opening sequence, some of the only moments in which the series dazzles you.
In many ways, Halston’s life is a tragedy, one cut short by the AIDS epidemic, a thorny self-confidence issue, and drug addiction that struck down his success in the fashion industry. Described as a genius, Halston and a committed McGregor is reduced to a man unable to hold your attention, hold his liquor, or hold his namesake, a talking point that becomes a central theme as the series concludes. The value of Halston’s name, and all of our names, is said to be immeasurable, but the speeches that the characters give remain shallow and uninspired, a forced set of words that sound nice without conviction.
Ryan Murphy’s time at Netflix continues rolling forward, though the quality of the content, like Halston’s career in the late 70s, has plateaued. With big names, a recognizable story, and glitzy costumes in every corner of the frame, Halston should have had the ability to draw you in and mesmerize you with its spectacle. Instead, it gives little beyond a story of conceit and cocaine, a fractured man who became intolerable to everyone besides a select few. Even Rodriguez singing “Liza with a Z” can’t supersede that.