Review by Sean Boelman
Austin is known for its music scene, and so it’s only natural that SXSW would showcase some of the best music documentaries that the year has to offer. Filmmaker Alice Gu’s second documentary feature as a director, Really Good Rejects, is a burst of energy that is sure to be a blast for music lovers everywhere.
The film tells the story of luthier Reuben Cox, who builds custom guitars that have become some of the most sought-after instruments in the industry. But these guitars are more than just pieces of wood and metal (and in this case, rubber) — they are representative of the greater shifts happening in the music world.
Reuben Cox is an interesting subject, and the perspective that Gu takes on his story is very effective. The movie presents him as a sort of lovable outsider, and while he is definitely more acclaimed and embraced than someone you would typically think of as an outsider, it still effectively endears us to him.
For musicophiles, this documentary is sure to be a delight because it goes very in-depth into the way in which these rubber bridge guitars are made and affect the sound of the instrument. But even though it is very technical in nature, it’s not just a film for those who are fans — even casual music listeners should find themselves interested in this unique story.
The main draw of the movie is undoubtedly going to be the interviews that it features with major musicians. Some recognizable faces, from Aaron Dressner of The National to Carrie Brownstein and more talk about Cox and the ways in which his guitars have shaped the sound of their music and music as a whole.
But this is also an ode to the feeling of community and creativity that defines the music world. It’s really awesome to see how all of these people come together to support one another in whatever ways they can because they are all artists trying to encourage each other’s innovation and create a sound that is fresh.
Stylistically, the film has a lot of energy, and so that gives the movie an overall feeling of fun that is quite nice. Given Gu’s previous film was very aesthetically-driven and energetic, it only makes sense that this would be the same way. And given the musical influences of the movie, this adds another layer of enjoyability.
Really Good Rejects offers some great vibes and is a love song to creativity and innovation in music. It’s just an all-around lovable documentary, especially for those who are interested in learning about how some of their favorite indie and mainstream musicians make their sound.
Really Good Rejects is screening at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival, which runs March 11-19.