Like the longhair with the foghorn falsetto it's titled after, this unfussy rock-doc profile is shaggy, sophisticated and more than a little sad. Compiled from dozens of hours of 2009 interview footage with Memphis indie-punk icon Jay Reatard (né Jimmy Lee Lindsey Jr.), Better Than Something: Jay Reatard captures its subject at a crossroads: pushing 30 and losing the adrenalized rage that gave his early work (and stage name) its nasty edge.
Reatard is candid and cogent about his future as an artist — all the more tragic, then, that he OD'd in 2010. Directors Alex Hammond and Ian Markiewicz make a case that Reatard's accidental death came as much from his openness and inclination to push boundaries as from the demons nipping at his ass, a subject they broach with grace rather than milk for sticky details.
Better Than Something is most alive when it shadows Reatard at record-store gigs, restaurants and hanging out on his front porch. The obligatory interviews with fellow musicians and label execs provide context, but only those with Reatard's stoic, stricken dad and adoring younger sister rise above standard scene-setting. Even nonfans will appreciate what a tough act Reatard is to follow, though, and anybody with a shred of respect left for rock & roll will feel loss and anger at his passing. —Mark Holcomb (March 8-11, Egyptian Theatre)