There are few things more inspiring than a good comeback story. Accomplished individuals of all varieties may experience obstacles to their success that aren’t at all within their control but which are surely frustrating and lamentable. Getting another shot at a different moment in time can be truly affirming, especially when the invitation back to the table comes from another person who exudes great reverence towards an idol. That warmth perfectly describes the relationship between the two subjects of The Return of Tanya Tucker – Featuring Brandi Carlile.
This documentary charts the collaboration of artist Brandi Carlile with a woman she greatly admired for years, Tanya Tucker, whose career was strong in its early years but faded over time. Carlile was eager to work with Tucker, and the two were involved in the creation of original music with Shooter Jennings that brought Tucker back to the forefront of musical popularity, ultimately earning Tucker her first-ever Grammy Awards and her first nominations in two and a half decades. As Tucker works with Carlile and Jennings, she delves into her past and the most influential moments that set her on the course that ultimately brought her to them.
One of the most worthwhile reasons to see this film is to hear Tucker sing. She’s clearly a talent but doesn’t enjoy having too much attention on her, and isn’t thrilled about others praising her vocals. The film’s opening scene features her singing and, in addition to rehearsals and performances seen throughout the film, the end titles include a brand-new song, Ready as I’ll Never Be, which could well earn Tucker her first Oscar nomination. Music means so much to Tucker, and to see her engage in that passion is the most powerful image of all.
Sharing top billing with Carlile also isn’t a problem for Tucker, who doesn’t appear to have much of an ego and appreciates the way in which Carlile venerates her. None of it feels forced or fake, and it’s truly heartwarming to see the two of them interact, as well as to observe how Jennings is respectful of someone who has been just as influential in country music as Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn but hasn’t had the same enduring legacy. Tucker is sixty-four years old and still going strong, and this film is sure to help her even more on that journey to renewed celebrity status.
This film joins a spate of recent music-centered documentaries that include numerous recording sessions and get to know their subjects by watching them work. Prominent examples include Songwriter and Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry, films that should prove especially pleasing to those who are already fans of their music since it allows a great degree of access to them in their most creative spaces. Those less familiar will still appreciate a window into their professional process and the way in which personalities manifest themselves within a working environment.
This documentary, which was initially won the audience award at the SXSW, and released theatrically in October and is now experiencing a resurgence of its own thanks to its selection as one of DOC NYC’s Short List picks, sets audiences up for a rewarding opportunity to watch two musicians from different generations come together and take advantage of each other’s best traits in order to help each other and create great music. This may not be the definitive Tanya Tucker biography but it’s one that includes an honest look from the artist herself at the moments and relationships that have shaped her into who she is now. This film provides an enticing invitation to look back at Tucker’s accomplishments and welcome her in to a new era of prosperity.
The Return of Tanya Tucker – Featuring Brandi Carlile is now playing in theaters and also screens at DOC NYC Wednesday, November 9th and virtually through Sunday, November 27th.