Timely and brilliant, Courtney Barnett’s Anonymous Club documentary premieres at Brain Dead Studios

Often referred to as the voice of a generation, Australian singer-songwriter/guitarist Courtney Barnett has developed a cult following for her self-deprecating lyrics and raspy guitars. Thrust into the spotlight as an unintentional spokesperson for depression, her music speaks to audiences who feel disconnected from the current culture of toxic positivity. More than just a documentary, Anonymous Club brings the viewer into the honest midst of her mental health struggles.

Shot on a 16mm camera by director and longtime Courtney Barnett music video collaborator Danny Cohen, the documentary traverses three years of live footage and snippets from an audio diary Cohen implored her to keep. At the heart of film is the portrayal of a solitary artist driven more by compulsion than a singular passion. “I sing angrily, and lost my voice because of my anger,” she says, as she paces around a room one night after a live show.

This angst, an ingrained part of her personality, is dissected when she shares she’s had depressive moods since she was ten with thoughts of being an emo kid before knowing what emo is. She talks about breaking down on stage and crying through a song because she’s so depressed, and the crowd is like “WTF.” It was a liberating experience for her she admits with a sense that she needs these songs as much as her audience relates to them. Songs are her form of communication and connection.

Barnett has been releasing her music on Milk! Records, a label she started back in 2012. Uncontrolled by executives, the film shows her grappling with the collective narrative she’s created. On one hand she understands that showing up in the world wholly as herself is helping people, but on the other, we see intense rumination that her art is futile, and she can’t be of service to anyone if she can’t even help herself.

Poignant scenes like one of her biting her nails in a hotel lobby while a bartender polishes a glass in the background, slinking into a couch from the crushing exhaustion of coming off stage, or simply watching her pack her suitcase and vent frustrations of having her belongings scattered across the globe—her vagabond lifestyle weighing heavily on her as she feels ever more lost.

But like the rest of humanity, through the confusion, the film captures her winning moments of hope and rejuvenation. Her depression lulls as she decides she “just can’t yell anymore,” and moves into a softer approach for Things Take Time, Take Time, her third solo album we get a glimpse of Barnett recording with Warpaint drummer Stella Mozgawa.

I found myself quietly smiling through most of this film. Her vulnerability and raw talent make a compelling documentary, irrespective of the music—a provoking distraction from the stress. The documentary is a forceful debut feature film for director Danny Cohen. It’s timely and brilliant.

Anonymous Club is now screening in select theaters throughout the US until September.

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