It's 1956 in Lubbock Texas, and a new band of three musicians led by Buddy Holly (Gary Busey) are playing in the local rollerskating rink, being broadcast on the radio across the area, but the tunes they perform are bland country numbers that appeal more to the mums and dads than the kids. However, Buddy has ideas about playing his own music, and launches into a rock and roll song, something which the teens love but outrages the parents - and the sponsor of the radio show. Yet Buddy will not be moved, he knows what he is playing is right for him, and right for the music business in general...
The Buddy Holly Story was a musical biopic in the vein of The Glenn Miller Story in that it was respectful and shows what a nice guy he was, without sticking too closely to the facts (there's a Cricket missing, for a start). Gary Busey is excellent as Holly, showing him as an ambitious, talented man, brimming with ideas. Instead of having Busey mime to old Holly records he sings them live, which really pays off, giving the music an immediacy and an authentic sound.
Although Holly didn't have the danger of, say, Gene Vincent or the young Elvis Presley, he's made to look rebellious in the film because everyone around him is so staid. Pretty much every rock and roll film is about rebellion of some kind, and this is no different, with the preacher denouncing the music from the pulpit and the producers at Nashville rejecting it as only appealing to the African Americans - excpet they don't term quite so politely. So you see Holly defying 1950's convention as a white musician playing what's regarded as black music or by marrying a Puerto Rican secretary (Maria Richwine).
That anti-racism theme is important, and made the film vital and relevant for what could have been a simple history lesson. The film has a bright, colourful look and a bittersweet, nostalgic feel which makes the ending appropriately poignant, especially when Busey sings "True Love Ways" with the orchestra backing him. While plainly filmed and with the tone pretty mild throughout, there are some nice, evocative scenes: Holly improvising "Peggy Sue" in the back of a car (except he calls it Cindy Lou), the DJ barricading himself into his studio to play "That'll Be the Day" non-stop, the humorous "entourage" scene.
The best sequence, however, is where they play the Apollo, going against convention to be the first white band to do so, mainly because we get to hear three numbers played without interruption and with tremendous vigour - Busey's energy here is not to be underestimated - but also because we get the feeling of barriers being broken down thanks to the unstoppable power of rock 'n' roll. Seeing Busey play with the big band at the end just isn't revolutionary enough, somehow. For a film where everyone watching is presumably well aware of how it will end, the script by Robert Gittler (who tragically committed suicide soon after this was completed) does engage the attention, and puts in a decent tribute to a pioneer thanks in no small part to Busey's commitment to the role.