Title: Pearl Jam Twenty

Director: Cameron Crowe

Most bands don’t stick around long enough to make it a career. Hell, most bands don’t stick around long enough to even play their first show. So it’s quite an accomplishment for a band to stay together for twenty years and still retain the excitement, fan base and artistic integrity from their first day as a band. And I concede, as much as I am not a fan of Pearl Jam or their music, I can appreciate the longevity and their intent. In the new film from Cameron Crowe, “Pearl Jam Twenty” he examines the band from their birth, their highs and lows at the start of a musical and cultural revolution, to date.

The start of the film doesn’t really start with the inception of Pearl Jam, the actual name of the band didn’t come to light until legal issue detoured them from using their original name, Mookie Blaylock, the NBA player, but it starts with the band before lead singer, Eddie Vedder, joined the band, Mother Love Bone. Mother Love Bone was one of the most popular bands in Seattle in the late 80s, but tragically broke up when their lead singer Andrew Wood died of a heroin overdose, at age 24. After Wood’s death Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament found Eddie Vedder and founded the band that would turn into Pearl Jam.

As much as this film is about the band Pearl Jam, it’s also about the filmmaker, Cameron Crowe. Cameron Crowe moved to Seattle from San Diego in the mid-80s. Once there he was part of the Seattle music scene, hanging out with bands like Mother Love Bone, Alice In Chains and Soundgarden. This film weaves in and out of Crowe’s film career and personal interest in the band itself. Pearl Jam was featured in Crowe’s 1992 film, “Singles”. A film that was seen as an exploitation or capitalization of the Seattle music scene, when in fact, it was part of it, being completed a year earlier in 1991, but not released due to Warner Bros’ inability to figure out what to do with it. There’s actually a scene in “Pearl Jam Twenty” that takes a look at the notorious MTV “Singles” promotion party, where Pearl Jam played and completely destroyed the stage and offended the corporate partygoers.

The film takes a look at their part in the commercialization of their beloved music scene in the early 90s. Once the band Nirvana broke out, Pearl Jam was the next, and from then on there was always this stigma of a rivalry between the two bands, when in fact, there was no visible rivalry. But dealing with that musical explosion and the suicide of Nirvana’s frontman, Kurt Cobain, took a real life toll on Pearl Jam, that would define the rest of their career. The band had bouts with Ticketmaster for monopolizing the concert industry and questionable Grammy Award “acceptance” speeches, surrounded the band. But interestingly, the film shifts into the last ten years of the band’s existence when they weren’t the biggest band in the world and pop culture and musical tastes have shifted to general pop music acts like Britney Spears and N’SYNC.

As a band, dealing with the change, Pearl Jam carried on and stayed true to their fans. This film does take a good look at practically every facet of Pearl Jam, but something in it doesn’t feel right. Cameron Crowe has a pension of sugarcoating his films, wanting to persevere the underlying sweetness within. A case in point is his 2000 film, “Almost Famous,” which never deals with the darkness of rock n’ roll and music in the early 70s, IE drugs, suicide and pain. I can’t help but feel that there’s something missing in the portrayal of Pearl Jam, as if the members of the band never fought or were resentfully of each other, namely Eddie Vedder’s overall pop culture status. Maybe Pearl Jam never had the stereotypical bouts with each other so that’s why that’s missing from the film, or they never had problems with drugs and alcohol. But it just seems like all of Pearl Jam’s problems are external and never internal.

At the end of the day, “Pearl Jam Twenty” is an interesting enough documentary on the history of Pearl Jam. That said, I find the history of any band interesting and this film never evolves into anything much more than VH1’s “Behind The Music”. There’s never a sense of dread or the possibility of the band’s break-up with “Pearl Jam Twenty,” but maybe that’s how Cameron Crowe wanted it. It feels more like a love letter to the band, as a part of Crowe’s life as something that is more inspirational. And in that way, “Pearl Jam Twenty” only works on a surface level, and not anything deeper.

Technical: B

Story: B-

Overall: C+

by @Rudie_Obias

pearl jam

By Rudie Obias

Lives in Brooklyn, New York. He's a freelance writer interested in cinema, pop culture, sex lifestyle, science fiction, and web culture. His work can be found at Mental Floss, Movie Pilot, UPROXX, ScreenRant, Battleship Pretension and of course Shockya.com.

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