2018 LOS ANGELES FILM FESTIVAL: Documentaries about famous living artists are trickier to pull off than one might think. There’s a tightrope one must walk between aggrandizing the subject and producing something that could be taken as slanderous. “Kate Nash: Underestimate the Girl” takes a look at the ups and downs of a famous current pop star and actress. Kate Nash has sold millions of albums, won plenty of awards and currently stars on “GLOW” on Netflix. Her documentary presents a fascinating story of how the internet created the multi-talented star and how other various setbacks threatened to end her career. However, many times director Amy Goldstein’s documentary falls more on the aggrandizing side of the spectrum. The interesting story has many angles that are incredibly relevant today, particularly around women’s roles in certain musical genres. However, often times the film comes off more like a fan letter than anything else.
The trajectory of Kate Nash’s unorthodox career is truly interesting. A MySpace celebrity, Nash rockets from fast food worker to international star seemingly overnight. Her pop tunes give her awards, fame and lucrative opportunities she would have previously only dreamed of. Then, she uploads a punk rock turn that’s more yelling, more screaming and more brilliant. At one point, a headline flashes saying Nash has ruined her career and never sounded better. The pop star Nash becomes a galvanizing force in fighting for women’s place in rock music and in the music industry at large. This leads to career and moral triumphs combined with personal tragedies that set her back and push her to the brink.
Early sections of the documentary focus on how Nash tries to expose sexism within certain genres of music. “Female is not a genre,” she says during an awards speech. Her versatility at multiple genres of music both makes her a genius but also sets back her career. These sections are the most interesting. The barriers around Nash’s self-expression are clear and we see her as this rebellious, creative soul. There’s a sense that the documentary’s look at this artist will be even bigger than her already groundbreaking work is. The hokey lyrics that float around Nash every time she sings should tip a viewer off. The film is much more interested in the central artist than the ways her music exists in the zeitgeist.
Unfortunately, this ultimately comes off as more of a PR moment than anything else. We embark on this roller coaster star journey with Kate Nash. However, we rarely get anything but a glowing portrait of the crusading artist herself. While tough setbacks happen to her, the film always makes her a likable protagonist, almost to a fault. Some of the setbacks are more interesting than others in documentary form. A revelation involving her manager comes off particularly shocking and yields some of the best moments of drama. However, it’s quickly cut to Nash narrating her distress in the middle of a sparse desert. A stronger documentary would’ve dug further into the ensuing drama, rather than following the victimized Nash on her way back home. As we catch up to Nash’s recent success, the film only further sanctimoniously promotes her.
Kate Nash is a wonderful artist with an interesting story. Documentaries don’t always have to be exposing a dark secret or tragic flaw in its subjects. Even this year, hit documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” was able to make Mr. Rogers an interesting subject by painting a more vivid picture of how his message transcended multiple generations. Early scenes here show what Nash meant to female artists. However, as the documentary relies more and more on Nash’s explanations and narrative, the less it becomes about the world she influences. By the end, we’ve lost the scope on why Kate Nash is important. Instead, we have a rag to riches to rags to riches story we’ve seen before.