Review by Sean Boelman
It’s Only Life After All debuted at the Sundance Film Festival to a positive but not particularly noisy reception. Leave it to the music capital of the world to give the film the platform it deserves, as its showing at Austin’s SXSW Film Festival is sure to give this extraordinary music documentary its due.
In the movie, the iconic folk rock duo the Indigo Girls tells their story as singer-songwriters and as queer icons in the music industry. Although the film is structured very much like a traditional biographical music documentary, the extraordinary story of Amy Ray and Emily Sailers — which is anything but traditional — makes the movie stand out.
If the film does have one shortcoming, it’s that — at just over two hours in length — it can feel a bit overlong. That being said, it’s hard to pinpoint a particular area in which content could have been cut. Between their music, activism, and personal lives, the Indigo Girls have so much story to be told, and for the most part, it’s absolutely captivating.
The Indigo Girls have received several accolades, but they still have a fair share of detractors who attempt to detract from their work for reasons that range from political opposition to outright homophobia and misogyny. However, in the movie, Ray and Sailers engage with these naysayers and respond to their criticism in a positive way.
However, even though this movie is primarily about the Indigo Girls, Ray and Sailers share the spotlight with others. In their activism, they have frequently partnered with activist Winona LaDuke, and there is an entire section of the film dedicated to how LaDuke has shaped their environmental advocacy.
What really makes It’s Only Life After All stand out from other music documentaries is its level of transparency and honesty. Plenty of music documentaries claim to offer “unprecedented” behind-the-scenes access or a “no-holds-barred” look at their subject(s), but Ray and Sailers are unflinching in their willingness to speak with Bombach — and the audience — because they know that sharing their story is what will inspire good in the world.
In the movie, Bombach makes extensive use of the archive materials that were given to her by the duo, including home movies and other footage, and that’s part of what gives the film its extremely insightful feeling. And, of course, the movie features plenty of great performance footage showcasing the duo’s many wonderful songs.
It’s Only Life After All is one of the best music documentaries in recent years because of the intimate level of access provided to the filmmaker by the subjects. Fans of the Indigo Girls will love this personal portrait, and those who are less familiar with the duo will walk away with a tremendous respect for them.
It’s Only Life After All screened at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival, which ran March 10-18 in Austin, TX.