Cameron Crowe, a filmmaker who knows a thing or two about rock music, now makes the claim for the lasting significance of Seattle's second most prominent grunge band---a touching gesture but the kind of contrarianism you get from music critics trying to stand out. In their initial flannel-clad moment (well-captured here with intimate archival footage), Pearl Jam rose from the ashes of a defunct band with an overdosed frontman (Mother Love Bone) to enjoy near-instant success with a sound that, to most ears, was Nirvana without the provocation. A 1992 MTV Unplugged is treated like the group's Jazz at Newport; we see their name infiltrating the tile board on Wheel of Fortune and Adam Sandler doing his nonsensical Eddie Vedder impression on SNL.
Once you get past the big hits, though, the movie enters a weird surreality; it's never discussed how the scene totally unraveled commercially, leaving behind plenty of growlers with dated sensibilities. Subtly, the band's existential crisis becomes that of Crowe's documentary itself: Pearl Jam strains for political import, lending its efforts to causes, taking on Ticketmaster and antagonizing fratboy audiences with its critical take on Dubya, "Bu$hleaguer." The effort---by Vedder & Co., as well as Crowe---is heroic, if not quite persuasive. Legends aren't made of longevity alone, and while you wouldn't wish Kurt Cobain's pain on anyone, you can't help but feel this band survived well past its meaning.
Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf
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