A documentary by Brett Morgen. Rated 14A.
In its search for Kurt Cobain’s inner life, this spell-casting documentary leans heavily on his diaries and journals, early on offering one credo from his teen years: “1) Learn not to play your instrument 2) Don’t hurt girls when you’re dancing (or any other time).” For an adolescent male from a small, working-class town, this punkish to-don’t list is admirably complete. And it’s one the Nirvana leader tried to honour in his short life and even briefer career.
Cobain’s innate sensitivity is illustrated by heartbreaking home movies from his early childhood in Aberdeen, Washington. Why he went quickly from sweet-faced light of his parents’ lives to hyperactive handful, shuttled carelessly between relatives, isn’t really explained by father Donald Cobain and mother Wendy O’Connor, who divorced when he was seven. His shaggy-blond mom today looks eerily like the Courtney Love of the future, and some of this toxic push-pull obviously entered Cobain’s volatile marriage, which produced daughter Frances Bean, now 22 and a producer of this atmospheric portrait.
Love is aboard, in new interviews and in painfully intimate family scenes, while weary-seeming bassist Krist Novoselic offers bittersweet recollections of his time in the biggest band of the 1990s. Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl is AWOL, except in the archival and concert material.
The emphasis in Brett Morgen’s slightly long (132-minute) film, however, is on Cobain’s own words, music, and drawings. There are superbly animated sequences built upon the singer’s own audiotaped thoughts, mostly about his troubled adolescence, as well as material drawn from the personal mix tapes that give this movie its secondary title. Riven by stomach pains, self-doubt, social anxiety, and crippling addictions, Kurt Cobain dodged hell for as long as possible, but couldn’t quite avoid its pull.