Dave Letterman Brings U2 Down to Earth — Sort of — with 'A Sort of Homecoming'

Directed by Morgan Neville

Starring Bono, the Edge, Dave Letterman, Glen Hansard, Panti Bliss, Jimmy Iovine

Photo courtesy of Disney

BY Alex HudsonPublished Mar 14, 2023

Bono's recent memoir, Surrender, is pretty much everything U2 skeptics would expect: the singer's stories of his humble origins in Dublin are intriguing, but his self-aggrandizing tales of his political influence are tone-deaf (like a whole bit bragging about his friendship with Bill Clinton), and the lyrics aren't nearly as good written on the page as they sound when sung. 

A Sort of Homecoming, a new documentary profiling Bono and guitarist the Edge, follows directly in the footsteps of the memoir. Like the book, it finds the musicians revisiting some of their most iconic past work while telling stories of their origins in Dublin. Some of the best stories are repeated — like how they briefly quit the band early on in order to focus on their religion, and how their 1983 hit "Sunday Bloody Sunday" helped them find their way back, reconciling their worldly impulse to make rock music with their spiritual mission to spread a positive message.

Their songs, reimagined here in acoustic arrangements, don't sound nearly as good as they did in their original electric form, and U2 don't have all that much substance as interview subjects. At one point, the Edge gorgeously demonstrates the echoing intro to "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and then describes its inspiration in the most boring manner possible: "What would I want to listen to if I was in the audience? What would blow me away?" Helluva riff, though.

Thank god for David Letterman. The long-time late-night host, who has found a nice late-career groove as a Santa Clausean elder who approaches subjects with benevolent curiosity, visits Dublin to meet with U2, acting as both a tourist and interviewer. He handles the band with the right amount of wit and reverence, expressing clear admiration without fawning and never going long without a self-deprecating crack at his own expense.

Many of the best scenes don't even involve U2 at all: Letterman talks with drag queen Panti Bliss about Ireland's fairly progressive recent track record regarding LGBTQ+ rights, takes a walking tour of Dublin, speaks with some local musicians (including Glen Hansard of the Swell Season and the Frames), and attends a slightly Banshees of Inisherin-esque jam session in a pub for the best musical moment of the doc. There's no clear narrative and it's not in any sort of chronological order, proceeding with a meandering and dreamlike quality that highlights Letterman's own experience visiting of Dublin, rather than focusing on U2's career arc. Talking head interviews extolling U2's greatness, including some quotes from Jimmy Iovine, are thankfully kept to a minimum.

In a particularly endearing moment, Bono and the Edge write a song for Letterman. It's almost good, too — I'd like to hear a second draft, but they've got a strong start. It's a wonderful chance for viewers to live vicariously through Letterman, imagining what it would be like to have U2 write a personalized song just for them. As insufferable as Bono can be, A Sort of Homecoming succeeds by bringing him down to earth, returning him to his humble Dublin roots and giving viewers a chance to tag along.

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