SXSW Film Review: Anonymous Club

Courtney Bartnett wrestles with creativity and celebrity

On the closing track of Courtney Barnett’s newest album Things Take Time, Take Time, entitled “Oh the Night,” she sings the lyrics: “Sorry that I’ve been slow / You know it takes a little / Time for me to show / How I really feel.”

Anonymous Club, the new documentary chronicling the life of the Australian indie rock darling, only gets as far as Barnett starting to feel out the songs that will end up on that record. But the essence of those lyrics is deeply felt throughout the vignettes of her life on display here, as she navigates her fraught relationship with the creation and performance of her own art.

With that in mind, you should know that this isn’t the rock and roll musician success story documentary you may imagine it to be at first glance. This intimate glimpse into Barnett’s life is methodical and contemplative, guided along by voice memos she recorded over three years that often find her wrestling with her own anxiety or sadness or imposter syndrome. Even snippets of her playing successful shows to sold out rooms singing her words back to her are underlined with a sort of melancholy restlessness and uncertainty.

It is, by design, less of a tracking of the rollicking highs and lows of a rock star and more of a feeling of floating along with a profoundly introverted artist trying to figure out how to reconcile her art with her success. Clips show her stumbling through interviews as her voice-over provides the context of how she wishes she could be a better communicator and find the courage to get all the thoughts out of her head. She talks about how liberating it was to start crying on stage in front of a couple thousand people. She has an astute perceptiveness about the world around her that she’s not eager to be perceived as pompous about; you can tell how she disinterested she is in the idea of being a celebrity. Even her participation in this movie seems almost incidental.

The woozy emotional yearning and meditative flow is aided by the distinct 16mm photography, giving these vignettes and snapshots a timeless, lived-in vitality. Some may walk out wishing for something with a bit more traditional direction or a more straightforward narrative of Barnett’s life up to this point, but that would be antithetical to who she is as an artist. The spirit of her music is captured in all these scattered frames of her day-to-day, and it has an ending that offers an optimistic impression that Barnett may still be growing into balancing herself with her role as a celebrity, but she’s getting there. Some things just take time.

Mickey: The Story of a Mouse

24 Beats Per Second, World Premiere

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SXSW 2022, SXSW Film 2022, Anobymous Club, Courtney Barnet

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