06-23-2003, 09:19 PM
Documentarian Sam Jones is in the right place at the right time as he captures the Chicago-based alternative country band Wilco as they struggle both internally and with their record label. The result is a reasonably compelling look at how a band grows through the process of creating and negotiating, if not necessarily in the ways anyone associated with the process had envisioned. Those only casually familiar with Wilco might be surprised to find that their ostensible leader, singer-songwriter Jeff Tweedy, is far more collaborative than he has appeared and that the band is comfortable sharing input in a loose, respectful manner; but multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett seems to want to diffuse the camaraderie by getting hung-up on semantics, involving Tweedy in long, drawn-out debates that point directly to Bennett’s insecurities and apparent desire to over-communicate. (After Bennett leaves the band, the group seems prepared—even eager—to move on and it’s apparent that Bennett had trouble connecting with the other band members as well.) The enmity between Wilco and their label, Reprise, is more cut-and-dried, with a story you’ve heard a million times before: profit-minded record label declines to release album by forward-thinking, critically acclaimed musical group; there isn’t much new here and the drama plays itself out rather quickly. Where the film truly shines is in capturing the essence of Wilco’s live performances. Slow, difficult and somewhat antiseptic on record, in concert they display a sparkle and drive that brings a vibrancy to Tweedy’s esoteric, often half-formed musings.