Pearl Jam Twenty is a Pearl Jam-approved Pearl Jam documentary. So you already know what to expect from it: Pearl Jam’s members will appear all humble and smiley; Pearl Jam’s peers will talk about how much they respect the band; someone will talk shit about Ticketmaster.
You’d be right to expect these things, and your cynicism toward band-sanctioned documentaries—which should never be mistaken for definitive portraits—is well-founded. Celebrity director Cameron Crowe (who does an admirable job of staying out of the picture after the film’s opening minutes) focuses on the mental anguish Eddie Vedder and company were caused by the band’s overnight success, and how Pearl Jam learned to cut its own noble path through the wilderness of mega-stardom. He never mentions how much money the band makes, or why Vedder is OK with gouging these days (tickets to his recent solo gig at the Schnitz were $85).
Still, if you suspend your disbelief a little and assume the members of Pearl Jam are the awesome dudes Crowe paints them as, this movie is a wild success. The sheer amount of archival video here—especially in the film’s Seattle-centric first half—is striking even if you’re not a Pearl Jam fan. Home movies of fresh-faced Seattle rockers just before the grunge explosion remind us just how young these rock gods-to-be really were: Early stadium-era Pearl Jam concert footage shows Vedder as a wild animal swinging untethered from light rigs three stories above the stage and the crowd. And for their part, the band members do offer candid—and sometimes quite moving—commentary on their group’s creative inner workings (guitarist Stone Gossard, the doc’s most insightful tour guide, offhandedly admits that Vedder long ago seized near-complete control of the once-democratic band).
For die-hard fans who have waited 20 years to see a movie about their favorite band, Pearl Jam Twenty—as
self-aggrandizing as it can be—will prove a huge treat. Given Pearl
Jam’s tight control over its image, this is also as close as those fans
are ever going to get.
70 SEE IT: Pearl Jam Twenty opens Friday at the Hollywood Theatre.