1. You love Leonard Cohen and/or his music
2. You don’t like butchered cover versions of his tunes
3. You hate Leonard Cohen and therefore have no reason to see this movie.
If this sounds harsh, let me lay out my argument concisely, since I have no desire to waste any more of my life talking about this than I have to. The film consists primarily of a tribute concert filmed a few years ago in Sydney. In the course of this concert, Rufus Wainwright, Jarvis Cocker, Nick Cave, and a bunch of people I’ve never heard of sequentially performed unrehearsed versions of Cohen songs while clearly reading the lyrics off a music stand. Some of them do a decent job (Rufus, particularly, but then he’s also sung these songs on his own albums, and some strange person named Antony has a wonderful voice) but others, like Jarvis, seem severely hampered by a backing band that has not had a chance to acclimate to the individual singers. Most disappointing, perhaps, is Nick Cave, as he is a clear acolyte of Cohen and ought to be able to pull off a decent cover.
The second most prevalent sort of material here is quotes from Wainwright, Cave, and, of all people, Bono. We learn from them that Cohen’s a good songwriter and an influential one. Bono tells us that Cohen’s songs are capable of touching us at multiple stages of life! Rufus is high or something, and Cave is just boring.
The smallest amount of time is devoted to Cohen himself. Given that this was the reason I watched the film in the first place, the fact that the clips used in the trailer were nearly the sum total of what is used in the film itself was disappointing. I had intended to sit through the cover songs for the sake of the man’s own words, but they are pitifully few and very little insight or recollection is provided.
Leonard Cohen is the best songwriter that I know of, one of the only talents I know who simultaneously awakens both my creative spirit and my eternal envy. A film about him, or a tribute concert, are not misguided projects. But a collection of embarrassing performances, poorly-shot interview footage, and a coda involving Cohen lip-synching with U2 is an insult to the man. If you want to know about Cohen, read a book. If you want to hear some decent covers, listen to about half of I’m Your Fan. Most importantly, just dust off your copy of The Songs of Leonard Cohen, because it’s not going to get any better. Read more!