A semi-intimate documentary portrait of Sheryl Crow – The Hollywood Reporter
Sheryl Crow is a master of her craft. The 60-year-old musician has released more than 10 albums and won nine Grammy Awards. She has sold millions of copies of her records and influenced a generation of musicians, whether they know it or not. Crow, who debuted on Michael Jackson in 1987 Wrong world tour, had the kind of career that some artists can only dream of. It has been changed, but in Sheryla documentary about Crow’s life, it’s clear she’s not jaded.
Directed by Amy Scott, the film finds Crow speaking with the enthusiasm and reverence of an apprentice. She marvels at the ups and downs of her life. She can laugh at herself and her precocious naivety. She doesn’t take for granted how music makes her feel and what it does for her. And, above all, she respects the tools – vintage guitars and amps, for example – and the people, who make it all possible.
Sweet but distant.
Sheryl captures these facets of his subject’s gratitude with ease. But when it comes to more rigorous analysis – a bit of hindsight, a touch of tension or cultural context – the documentary leaves something to be desired.
To be fair, sheryl, which will premiere on Showtime on May 6, is not intended as a revealing exposé or a platform for talking heads. It’s a deserved appreciation from an artist whose music has transformed the lives of many, including her own. Scott, who directed the last Sundance film Hal, aims for intimacy, frankness and humour. Her respect for Crow guides the documentary, which dutifully chronicles the musician’s journey to stardom and the bumps she encountered along the way. But that adoration ends up limiting the scope of the work, forcing it to recap a handful of themes to get us to the credits.
Crow’s insatiable curiosity and desire to better himself must first be investigated. The musician was born in Missouri and, she recalls through one-on-one interviews, recalls the magnetic sustaining music she had on her. His mother was a piano teacher and his parents were members of a swing band. She remembers sneaking downstairs with her sisters to watch their rehearsals. Crow then studied music composition at the University of Missouri in Columbia. After graduating, she taught music to children with special needs. After two years of hard work, she left Missouri for Los Angeles in pursuit of a dream she couldn’t get rid of.
Los Angeles, like New York for another kind of artist, sobered up Crow. She spent her early days sending demos to random music executives and serving. Her big breakthrough came when she managed to audition for Michael Jackson Wrong to visit. She was impressive. Over the next year, she worked closely with the King of Pop and showcased her talents to a wider audience.
Sheryl paints a nice portrait of those early years, using interviews with Crow, old photos and camcorder footage. Crow met his best friend – and later manager – Scooter Weintraub during this time; he speaks with tenderness and protection of her and their friendship. But the doc stumbles when addressing Jackson and the allegations against him, which Crow briefly mentions. To some extent recognition is required, but the way it is inserted – fleetingly, but very deliberately – feels unnatural.
He also betrays SherylCrow’s main problem (and that of many recent music documentaries): the tension between respecting Crow’s privacy and wrestling with the finer details of his life. The doc touches on moments of startling intimacy only to avoid their implications. He skims lightly over the most painful memories of Crow’s journey, but finds no way to compensate for the resulting thinness of these segments of the document.
After working for Jackson, Crow began dating musician Kevin Gilbert. She joins him and other guys for informal songwriting sessions as a group called Tuesday Night Music Club (later the title of her debut album). Crow fans know what happens from here. The album – particularly the single “All I Wanna Do” – catapulted her to fame. Sheryl provides a beautiful summary of those years, giving his subject time to correct the record on writing credit. Reflecting on David Letterman’s painful interview, in which Crow thoughtlessly erroneously declared the song “Leaving Las Vegas” to be autobiographical, brings him to tears.
Perfectionism dogged Crow after the success of Tuesday night music club. Each album thereafter gave her the opportunity to surpass herself – and she did. Crow not only knew how to sing and play instruments, but she wrote her songs and produced her records. Yet the doc and some friends of Crow suggest she was never fully recognized for the extent of her talent. Two themes converge: Crow’s personal drive to be perfect and how industry sexism has hampered her career. Here, we want Sheryl broke free from the biographical playbook and charted his own course a bit more. The #MeToo movement has made it easier to identify cases of sexual harassment (like the one Crow faced from an early manager) and helped articulate the realities of sexism within industries; it would have been worth doing in the context of Crow’s career.
In place, Sheryl treats these anecdotes – as well as admissions to the demands of fame and the pressures of fame – somewhat loosely before moving on. Crow also briefly talks about her most high-profile relationships, including her engagement to Lance Armstrong, but she doesn’t dwell. Sheryl looks back at the relentless drive of his subject and how it contributed to bouts of depression and burnout. These are followed by a diagnosis of breast cancer, which leaves the artist shaken.
After (thankfully) recovered, Crow assesses his life. What had she accomplished? A ton ! What did she want to do next? Motherhood was a priority, and Crow fondly recounts how she came to adopt her two sons. Her testimony is followed by a beautiful montage of images of Crow’s children spending days with her on tour, playing, laughing, being children.
The arrival of the Crow children brings the Doctor to a warm end. SherylCrow’s final act considers Crow’s legacy and how his music found a new generation of fans. In some ways, this project serves as a bridge between the past and the present, giving old and new Crow fans the opportunity to get to know her, up to a point.