Sheryl Crow Documentary Breezes Past the Best Parts

Directed by Amy Scott

Starring Sheryl Crow, Keith Richards, Laura Dern, Brandi Carlile, Emmylou Harris, Joe Walsh

BY Alex HudsonPublished May 19, 2022

The irony of music documentaries is that the music is usually the least interesting thing about them. That's certainly true of Sheryl, a mostly by-the-numbers account of how Sheryl Crow became one of the most famous singer-songwriters of the late '90s and early '00s.

After a brief preamble about her life in small-town Missouri, where she was a schoolteacher engaged to a born-again Christian who disapproved of her playing music, Crow remembers moving to Los Angeles to chase her dream. Director Amy Scott gets significant access to Crow and her archives — there's even footage of Crow saying goodbye and driving off in a red convertible, seemingly shot at the very moment she moved to Los Angeles.

Once in L.A., she takes a familiar route to fame: getting gigs on failing TV shows (a bizarre-looking police procedural that was also a musical called Cop Rock) and working as a backup singer. Her stint singing with Michael Jackson yields some interesting and upsetting stories, as she recalls Jackson jabbing Bubbles the chimp with a ballpoint pen and having young boys with him on tour.

By the time Sheryl gets into Crow's successful solo career, it shifts into autopilot, giving a play-by-play of album recording sessions, Grammy Award victories, fallouts with early collaborators and fame. There are interviews with friends and admirers, including Brandi Carlile, Keith Richards and Emmylou Harris, who speak to Crow's influence and the power of her voice without saying all that much. Only Laura Dern, a close friend, has much to offer in terms of personal insights.

Along the way, there are fascinating moments: how Crow was blamed for the suicide of Leaving Las Vegas author John O'Brien after failing to credit him in an interview, her relationship with Lance Armstrong, her battle with breast cancer, bouts of severe depression, and how she adopted two boys. Each of these moments could probably sustain an entire film of its own, or at least a significant chapter, but instead they're breezed by within minutes (or less). Any character flaws aren't mentioned at all — so even during moments of emotion or vulnerability, Sheryl never challenges its own subject. It very much feels like an "authorized documentary," the purpose of which is essentially to act as an advertisement for Crow. Perhaps such is the price of a film getting this degree of access.

Sheryl certainly makes a strong case for Crow's excellent catalogue: "All I Wanna Do," "If It Makes You Happy," "A Change Would Do You Good" and "Soak Up the Sun" all receive significant airtime, reinforcing Crow's status as a "legacy artist" — a term she employs with self-deprecating scare quotes.

And that, of course, is the real purpose of Sheryl: to pump up her reputation, remind viewers of how many hits she has and offer insight into her character, all without tarnishing her good name. At a breezy hour and a half, Sheryl is entertaining but never cuts too deep.

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