Nothing Compares Movie Review (2022)

A clever, empathetic documentary recasts the singer’s life as it appeared in the tabloids.

Nothing Compares Movie Review (2022)

Nothing Compares Movie Review : Janet, Britney, Monica Lewinsky, Alanis: The treatment of girls and young women caught in the eye of the turn-of-the-millennium pop culture cyclone has been documented in a variety of ways over the past several years, and it wasn’t beautiful. The new Sinéad O’Connor documentary Nothing Compares (airing Sept. 30 on Showtime) feels like a time capsule and a reckoning at the same time. It is the cautionary tale of yet another disobedient woman who dared to step out of line and paid the price with her career, her reputation, and, in O’Connor’s case, almost her life.

Following the singer’s journey from her Dickensian Dublin childhood with a violent and mentally ill mother through the group care homes where she spent most of her teenage years and her escape to London by the age of 19, director Kathryn Ferguson (Taking the Waters) initially casts Compares in a solid Behind the Music mould. By the age of 20, she had given birth to her first child, despite the label she was signed to trying their best to stop it. If you haven’t read O’Connor’s bestselling memoir Rememberings, you should know that they made a lot of effort to convince her to end the pregnancy, despite how disruptive it was to their marketing plans for her 1987 debut.

Sadly, it is hardly news that the music industry is a snake hole. In the end, she decided to keep the child, and the outrageous overreach of the label at least helped her find the appearance that would become distinctively hers. They urged her to be more traditionally feminine; nonetheless, she chose to grab the clippers. Archival footage aptly captures Sinéad’s jaw-dropping beauty, even when she was bald. In fact, shaving it all off seemed to crystallise her persona in more ways than one.

Ferguson, however, also takes the time to chart the artistic development of a young woman whose voice, which ranged from a lullaby whisper to an almost otherworldly cry, could, even as a waifish adolescent, freeze time. The singer acknowledges that using music as therapy helped her “which is why my meteoric rise to fame as a pop artist came as such a shock. That wasn’t what I had in mind. I was just itching to shout.”

She did more than that, but her infamous peak on Saturday Night Live in 1992 when she tore up a picture of the Pope and said, “Fight the real enemy,” as she stared down the camera, was the culmination of her habitual outspokenness on the Catholic Church, child abuse, and various other taboo subjects most peers in her orbit wouldn’t come near. John Paul II would not officially admit the systemic depth and veracity of that abuse until over ten years later, which was too late for O’Connor.

Even though it could be an overstatement, the media blitz that followed is still heartbreaking to witness: This sincere young Irishwoman, still sorting out her politics at the age of just 23, with a toddler on her hip and the whole weight of world renown on her head, was painted as an unthankful agitator, a heretic, and worse.

Ferguson uses the singer as a frequent narrator, vividly describing these memories in her own words. She also includes a well-chosen voiceover cast of friends, bandmates, and well-known admirers, but there are no talking heads.

In addition to omitting significant portions of Sinéad’s biography, such as several subsequent marriages and children, a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and an eventual conversion to Islam, the movie also loses a little something in the basic-cable recreations of Sinéad’s childhood that it uses to fill those gaps. Ironically, O’Connor’s signature song is also absent because the estate of Prince, who owns the songwriting rights, forbade its use. But as an intimate, frequently vexing portrayal of an artist and an age, it’s difficult to dispute the story’s raw intensity on screen — or even its relevance, no matter how long overdue.

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