'Hate to Love: Nickelback' Has All the Right Reasons, but Little Insight

Directed by Leigh Brooks

Starring Chad Kroeger, Mike Kroeger, Ryan Peake, Daniel Adair, Ryan Vikedal, Jonathan Simkin

Photo courtesy of TIFF

BY Alex HudsonPublished Sep 15, 2023

If you still claim to hate Nickelback, trying listening to "Photograph" — and, this time, really listen to it, forgetting about all those cute memes and preconceptions about how Nickelback sucks. It's a perfect radio song: a country ballad dressed up as alt-rock with achingly nostalgic lyrics that cut straight to the heart of anyone who yearns for the recklessness of youth.

Hate to Love: Nickelback chronicles the group's uncontested reign as the music world's easiest punching bag, a title they've now lost thanks to some revisionist history and the existence of Machine Gun Kelly. At this point, hating on Nickelback is hacky and obvious, making now the perfect time for director Leigh Brooks's career-spanning documentary that humanizes the figures who became effigies for anyone claiming to have highbrow taste in art. It has become so ubiquitous to make fun of Nickelback that, ironically, now the coolest stance is to admit that they're actually good at what they do (and even their vapid stripper anthems can be pretty funny).

Hate to Love traces their career chronologically (perhaps a bit too chronologically), starting with their extremely blue-collar origins in Hanna, AB, where singer-guitarist Chad Kroeger was a notorious troublemaker with a rocky home life and frequent run-ins with the cops. From their early gigs in a cover band called Village Idiot to their formative days as struggling road dogs in Nickelback, the film reveals the lines of credit and loans from family members that kept them afloat — with the band's lawyer Jonathan Simkin delivering a pointed "fuck you" to anyone who has accused the band of being corporate.

Like many official documentaries, Brooks benefits from having access to a wealth of archival material, but also toes the company line, never falling to cast them in a flattering light. The film discusses the firing of longtime drummer Ryan Vikedal without ever getting into the weeds of what exactly happened. Brooks is far more interested in redemption arcs than actual conflict.

The film also never quite probes deep enough into the complex character of Chad Kroeger — a workaholic whose only sense of self-identity revolves around the band, and who seemingly never expresses any sense of doubt or existential introspection. Even his own brother, bassist Mike Kroeger, admits that he doesn't fully understand what's going on behind Chad's brash façade. More time spent grappling with his character (and more time spent around the pool table in his gloriously bland, exquisitely grey McMansion) could have been an entire movie in itself. His short-lived marriage with Avril Lavigne is sadly reduced to a passing mention. Who is this guy, and how does he really feel about being the most hated man in music? Hate to Love offers only surface-level answers about moments of insecurity and resilience.

Luckily for Brooks, Nickelback's public reputation is so fraught that even a puff piece about them is inherently quite interesting. Simply by taking the stance that Nickelback is good, Hate to Love inherently has a different point of view than what listeners usually see, making this a welcome shift in the conversation.
(Gimme Sugar Productions)

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