Janis: Little Girl Blue
Time Out says
The electric voice and lost soul come to life in a thorough profile of an all-too-brief career.
Amy Berg’s deeply sympathetic documentary on Janis Joplin—a singer whose shredded wail tapped reservoirs of pain—gets so much right, it feels like a major act of cultural excavation. We get a glimpse of the high-school-aged subject’s report card (mostly Cs and Ds) and a thorough sense of the tomboyish rebel who found her way to San Francisco’s burgeoning Haight-Ashbury scene. Joplin’s flower-girl mystique is punctured by frustrated bandmates, lovers of both sexes and a charmed Dick Cavett (who was likely more than a confidante). Best are the letters to home, given voice by Cat Power’s Chan Marshall, supplying an earthy Sissy Spacek–like narration that pushes us further inside a troubled head than most rock profiles dare.
As with recent docs Amy and Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, tragedy can’t help but loom. Still, Joplin’s drug use turns out to be more of a battle than you might have known: She’d already gotten hooked on heroin and kicked it before succumbing to something closer to loneliness (and a relapse). Berg relies too often on a shot of a train track receding, while her film tells a more complex story: Joplin wasn’t drawn inexorably to her fate but instead comes off like an adventurer with a sad, untamed spirit.
Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf