The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart (2020, Frank Marshall)

The Bee Gees deserve a more comprehensive documentary thanHow Can You Mend a Broken Heart. The film skips over a lot of specifics in the early years, then ends its main narrative in the late 1970s with the Disco Demolition, which could have been a major turning point in the film as they’re talking about the racist and homophobic undercurrents to the anti-disco movement. Forty years later and disco (and The Bee Gees) are still entertaining and I’m not looking up Steve Dahl because I don’t want to know if he’s an anti-masker.

It certainly wouldn’t be a surprise given how he comes off in the contemporary news footage. Shame he didn’t do any interviews for Heart, sort of a serious statement, sort of not. I’ve got no confidence in director Marshall or writer Mark Monroe to do with anything even slightly argumentative. But given how little the Disco Demolition stuff figures into the actual narrative–sure, there’s a little about the immediate post-disco stuff for the group, but it’s a rush to the finish. Story’s over. No one cares, apparently, about the Staying Alive soundtrack. Though everyone has noticed there’s no mention of The Bee Gees’ movie, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band either.

Broken Heart’s one of those documentaries where it’s not only successful because of its subject, it’s successful because of its subject’s content. There’s a bunch of old home movie footage, including stuff with the band—for some reason Marshall and Monroe avoid the band subplot (whether or not The Bee Gees are a band or a, what, pop group?), even though it’s clearly important to Barry Gibb, the only one of the brothers still alive and able to participate. There’s archive footage of brothers Maurice and Robin from the late 1990s, but the film treats it like a big constraint, which is strange because they do get a bunch of good material from other band members. We just don’t ever find out what really happens with the music—why people left and so on. The little narratives the interviewees introduce go nowhere.

The modern interviewees—Eric Clapton because he was involved with the same labels in the seventies, Noel Gallagher and Justin Timberlake because they like The Bee Gees, Chris Martin because he knows about being really popular and then no one liking you, and Nick Jonas because brothers—are hit and miss. Some of them are amusing and know their Bee Gees. Some of them get lost. Even when they have something relevant to say. Meaning Chris Martin.

Anyway.

Given the film’s focus on the disco era for the narrative conclusion, they probably should’ve just done a better job talking about the disco stuff. I’d heard it cut off before the movie with brother Andy Gibb’s… well, not death, because it sort of ignores it fades out on Andy Gibb in 1979 and he died in 1988. But I knew not to expect anything post-seventies. Given the hundred minute runtime, I figured it would be a two-parter. Nope.

They really do a rush finish over the last couple decades of The Bee Gees, so Broken Heart isn’t really interested in the band as people or artists and whatnot, it’s just a quick, amiable survey of the rise to the glory days, the glory days, and then scene. Because the glory days are awesome, based on the footage—they were great at working the camera—and we don’t get much of it. How Can You Mend a Broken Heart isn’t interested in the available subject today, it isn’t interest in showcasing the music, and it’s not interested in the subjects as they developed as anything but celebrities.

There’s some really interesting stuff about the music. The best interviewees are the ex-drummers, ex-guitarists, ex-producers. The stories of how they all came together to create these mega-hits, all thanks to these seemingly amiable—still unproblematic (enough if not entirely) after sixty years of celebrity—basic but sincere British brothers who could fucking sing. How Can You Mend a Broken Heart initially does a pretty good job showcasing the ability then loses interest; Marshall just plays it all wrong. It gets over a lot. And mostly because the music’s good. Like. Forty years later… Bee Gees good, sometimes better. Yes, it’s a trip to see them performing the folk stuff looking like the boys too square for Marcia Brady but then Robin sings and all of a sudden it doesn’t matter it’s square and obvious.

It’s a fun, entertaining hundred minutes. But it should be a lot better. Just for itself, it should be better; shouldn’t have ignored subplots and so on. Marshall’s entirely absent as director and it’s a mistake. The film need some personality. Marshall and Monroe bring none.

So it’s a testament to The Bee Gees how much Broken Heart succeeds.

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