There’s something in the way the Indigo Girls spoke to people’s trauma too. The subject of Alexandria Bombach’s “It’s Only Life After All” were a formative part of my youth, along with so many loyal fans. Some of the best material in Bombach’s film reveals the connection that people felt to Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, one that continues to have an influence to this day, but that they often seem to dismiss that angle with a self-effacing comment. It’s hard to believe that something that you love to do could have a life-changing impact on those who hear it, but the best parts of Bombach’s film reveal how none of that is calculated for these two, reminding us once again that just being true to your passion and your beliefs can be enough to make a change in this world.
In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s—when this writer was in high school and college, by the way—Indigo Girls were massive in certain circles (the ones I was in, for sure). Their music felt unapologetically true to its creators, never calculated in a way to get fans or airplay. And that truth spoke to people who felt like they didn’t have a voice in mainstream radio, especially after Saliers and Ray came out and become icons for an entire community. It felt like the Indigo Girls used their power for good, becoming outspoken supporters for people like Indigenous activist Winona LaDuke. And yet they’re so casual about their roles in both music and activism. None of it ever feels like an act, just an understanding of how they could amplify their interests through their music and fandom.
Bombach is lucky to have a massive archive of material from their entire career from which to construct a film, but that can be a curse too as “It’s Only Life After All” wears out its welcome at close to two hours, often repeating itself as it unfolds. There’s a tighter, more focused version of this story that still has the same thrust without feeling like it drags out the concert a little too long. Still, fans will adore it, and they’re the ones who really matter.
The fans are kind of all that matters to Judy Blume too. Her connection with them, revealed in Davina Pardo and Leah Wolchok’s “Judy Blume Forever,” is undeniably moving. The author of so many beloved books felt like a person that readers could trust, often even more than their parents, and when Blume opens boxes of letters from fans, many of whom she responded to, her impact on the world is remarkably moving. Sadly, the movie around her doesn’t quite rise to her level. Blume is a massively influential writer, one who has never gotten quite the critical attention she deserves, but this movie seems content to hit all the chronological and career life markers instead of doing the work about what inspired Blume or how she inspired others. Blume is a charming interview subject, but one gets the impression that you could learn as much about her with a dinner conversation as you do here, and that’s a shame.