Indigo Girls makes for a much more interesting subject for a music doc than it’s gotten the treatment in recent years, and director Alexandria Baumbach doesn’t live up to that promise with “It’s Only Life and That’s All,” which has a day-one premiere slot at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. The film celebrates Amy Ray and Emily Salyers’ status as one of the first people in the rock world to break out while enjoying gold and platinum success, as the duo did in their prime in the late ’80s and ’90s. But beyond exploring what the pair meant to their records and success in a waning day for musical role models, Baumbach’s movie finds its real flavor in exploring the differences between the pair’s two very distinct personalities, which may have been so far. To all but the most hardcore fans seemed like an obscure, singular unit.
In this case, “couldn’t be more different” is not an euphemism for “take it seriously” as it often is in duo or band situations. That means there’s a whole rainbow worth of LGBTQ or what it means to be human, just within Ray and Celier. These distinctions go a long way to ensure that the film does not become an over-conferment of sainthood. Granted, there’s some of that, but in any case Bombach’s build to be the girls’ hero is fairly well-earned, and less hagiographic than many of the recent music docs coming down the pike. Perhaps the biggest winner for the film’s potential with a wider audience, though, is that Ray and Salyers have become just a couple of women that almost anyone would want to spend a few hours with, whether you know it or not, from distant memory. Among the singers as VH1’s one-time icon.
The feel-good aspects are plentiful enough that it comes off late as a rude awakening when the filmmaker presents a painful piece that’s a sort of anthology of pop-culture moments where so-called “lesbian folk-rock duos” are the butt of a lot of jokes, usually based on the idea. Because indigo girls represent something that no man or straight guy would want to approach. At times they themselves participated in the comedy, such as their appearance in a 1998 episode of the sitcom “Ellen,” set at a “women’s festival,” which the two singers watch on iPads and Grimes to reminisce today. It was presented as knowing, affectionate humor from the inside, but the pair now agree that there was a layer of self-homophobia in those vintage gags.
Often, humor was thrust upon them, such as a quick-witted “SNL” sketch in which Amy Poehler and Rachel Dratch portrayed the pair as overly earnest. “If you asked us to play on ‘SNL’ and then make fun of us, that would be fine,” says Ray, who thinks that toning down the comedic jabs at gays still allows “oldies” to mock gays and butchers.” To the extent that the pair The name may still be a punchline, as a stand-in for “all-women,” to see how far Baumbach’s doc will go to serve as a restoration project for a historic work that’s always deserved much better.
Critics haven’t always been kind to the girls, as there’s another cringe-y scene in which Ray and Salyers are asked to read aloud from a 1989 New York Times review in which Jon Perales (sounding more nonsensical than he has at almost any point in the following decades) wrote that “There’s a new standard of aspirational pretentiousness” and “every Indigo girl’s pretense is a little different.” Rather than just being an act of filmic self-flagellation, it becomes one of the more interesting scenes, as they debate whether it was unhealthy to bring up that review in their stage patter at the time in concert – or, more surprisingly, whether Pereles had some valid points. . Ray, in particular, admitted that the critic was probably right when he criticized his “stagnant, self-congratulatory gestures” at the time, even as he maintained a typical affect-that-guy attitude. Really Really have the ability to fast-forward throughout the movie, and acknowledge that the acoustic-rock scene they came out of had a “mediocrity” that they had to fight against and try to overcome.
It’s Ray, in general, who both have tempers, they both agree — and whether she’s overreacting to the footage of her repeated tantrums at the concert soundman or whether she’s really reacting is up to the viewer to justify a patriarchal attitude toward what was assumed to be girls. (or girls) know nothing about words. Not surprisingly, however, he’s the one who drifted more towards punk rock in the 2000s, fronting a band called Butchis in his solo project and as a side project, even as the more naturally conciliatory Salyers seems to drift more towards his childhood. country roots
But in the end the majority of the movie is not spent on defense. The songs are good (even Perales can admit that now), the tunes are undeniable. Outside of music, Ray’s and Cellier’s constant openness to personal self-evaluation, where they each fit on the spectrum, is fascinating and remarkable. Salyers is the one who resisted coming out into the limelight for the first few years, but it’s been noted that he was the first of the two to make a blatant, public statement about it, and you see throughout the film how he’s quite popular. His own backbone, even if he is often in the position of negotiator. That backbone came in handy when she overcame alcoholism in recent years — or when she let it be known that she was also attracted to men, even if she’d never had a relationship with them, which could leave a part of the fan base on Ray about the nuances of sexual orientation. has a lot of clarity, saying she identifies with male and female characteristics equally, but has spent a lot of time learning to love her body — as identifiable as anything other than female — though she advises a stylist to “pretend I’m A guy, that’s not hard.”
Ray and Salyers are the only conversational principals to address the camera, except for a few fans at the beginning and end who offer testimonials to the acting’s life-saving qualities. There isn’t even a relevant mention of other artists, let alone a speech by Brandi Carlyle, who singled out the Indigo Girls as a group on whose shoulders she stood as perhaps a more universally embraced artist. Maybe that’s the movie’s point in the end – the girls are so complementary in their sometimes disparate self-views, any two hours buried in celebrity fandom could be wasted. Anyone who has ever made a joke will definitely come away with a newfound respect for IGs as LGBTQ OGs. And no one is yet eager to bring Ray and Salyers their flowers, as Carlyle might sing: the joke is on them.