The paramedic thinks I’m clever because I play guitar
I think she’s clever because she stops people dying
Avant Gardener – Courtney Barnett
I'm not sure that Danny Cohen's brilliant doc Anonymous Club will make you fall in love with Courtney Barnett's music. It's difficult to fathom, however, a world in which you won't fall madly in love with the artist herself. Barnett is a sort of anti-influencer, a brilliant artist who is far more talented than the vast majority of us will ever be. Yet, there's always seemed like there's something different about her. It's that "something different" that comes alive in Anonymous Club, a feature doc shot on vivid 16mm film over the course of three years and assembled into one of the year's best music docs by Barnett's longtime friend Danny Cohen.
It's clear from moment one that Barnett trusts Cohen to get this all right. It's clear as the closing credits of the 83-minute doc are rolling that Barnett's trust has been rewarded.
I should confess that I am a fan of Barnett's music, a sort of experimental grunge meets folksy/rockish mishmash of witty and surprisingly revealing lyrics with Barnett's easily recognizable deadpan yet almost whimsical way of singing those lyrics. Barnett is an acquired taste, I suppose, and even when she was nominated for Best New Artist in the Grammy Awards in 2016 you could practically hear Americans whisper nationwide "Who's Courtney Barnett?"
If you know, you know.
Barnett is an awful lot like my favorite artists in the world, an enigmatic young woman whose lyrics make you feel far closer to her than you really are and a woman whose notorious introversion likely means you'd likely pass her on the street without giving her a second glance. She's far from unfriendly and that comes alive vividly throughout Anonymous Club, however, it's equally likely she's not going to go out of the way to get your attention.
With most music docs, especially these days, it seems like not much more than attention-seeking pop singers serving up faux authenticity and a sort of Tik-Tok relationship with fans. With Anonymous Club, Barnett isn't so much seeking attention as sharing herself with fans in a way that feels most safe and comfortable to her. Cohen rather brilliantly provided Barnett with a dictaphone and Anonymous Club is wrapped around the Barnett that is revealed on this audio diary by Barnett. This isn't some weirdly self-absorbed diary and it never feels like some cheesy marketing ploy. Instead, it serves as a companion for Barnett as she embarked on the supporting tour for her release Tell Me How You Really Feel and practically serves as a bedtime story for devoted fans as Barnett reveals her creative process, her inner conflicts and challenges acquired with having achieved fame, and the occasional darkness that serves as the foundation for Barnett's whimsical, seemingly freeflowing artistry.
I suppose it could be said that Anonymous Club actually captures Barnett herself, a rarity these days among so many docs that offer well-manicured glimpses inside an artist's life that really only serve to reinforce their already existing public image.
Picked up by the brilliant folks at Oscilloscope Laboratories and set for a limited nationwide release starting July 15th in New York and LA before expanding out, Anonymous Club feels less like a love song from Barnett to her fans and more like a sort of meditative affirmation sort of proclaiming "I'm giving you who I really am."
As an artist, Barnett is known for being interview shy. Yet, if one listens to her music interviews are really unnecessary as she puts all of her truths in her lyrics whether singing about anaphylactic shock or the fact that she wants us to tell her how we really feel and she actually means it.
I often make jokes anytime a Jennifer Lopez tune lands on my dial and I'm forced to listen to her proclaim an obvious anti-truth that she's still "Jenny from the block." With Barnett, however, there's such a pervasive sense of normalcy in her entire being that you realize that this utterly brilliant, mutli-talented young woman is also refreshingly normal. That normalcy radiates throughout Anonymous Club, a film less worried about telling the story of Barnett's life that most fans already have tattooed on their hearts and more about immersing fans and moviegoers more fully into Barnett's world. Anonymous Club captures the vulnerability that has connected us with Barnett and really affirms the connection that we feel to her in life's joys, sorrows, and more mundane moments.
Anonymous Club is brilliant precisely because it's not trying to be brilliant. Anonymous Club makes us love Courtney Barnett even more precisely because it's not trying so hard to market Barnett to us but instead enhancing the relatability we feel every single time we listen to tunes like Anonymous Club, Pedestrian at Best, History Eraser, and City Looks Pretty among so many others.
2022 has already brought us Leftover Feelings: A Studio B Revival, a feature doc surrounding my longtime favorite artist John Hiatt based around his work with the Jerry Douglas Band for their 2021 Grammy-nominated release. Anonymous Club feels like it belongs on that doc's musical mantle and I could be happy spending the rest of my life simply watching both docs back-to-back-to-back forever.
Don’t stick that knife in the toaster
Baby life is like a rollercoaster
And there’s nothing wrong with getting older
Keep one eye on the prize.
Don’t give up just yet, you got it.
Don’t worry your pretty little head,
Soon you’ll be in bed
Oh what a long, long day it’s been.
Take It Day by Day - Courtney Barnett
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic