Documentary Review – Kate Nash: Underestimate the Girl (2020)

Directed By: Amy Goldstein
Running time: 89 minutes

If you already love Kate Nash, you don’t need to read this review. Ignore what I think and immediately go stream “Kate Nash: Underestimate the Girl” because it was made for you. The documentary is partly a digital year-book covering the first half of Nash’s career and partly an explanation of the creative and logistical battles that she fought as an artist. There are also some very fun lyric videos interspersed throughout the film, which I am certain you will love. Like I said, this movie was made for you, you will love it, go watch it.

If, on the other hand, you do not love Kate Nash or know who she is, I’d say you have a 50/50 chance of liking this movie. There is very little narrative direction in the first half of the film and the second half is a decade’s worth of Nash’s frustrations with the music industry. A large majority of the narration is done with video clips of Nash over the last decade, which makes the movie feel more like a journal than a documentary. Which, again, is great if you are already a fan.

Photo credit: Carolina Faruolo

For the unfamiliar, Kate Nash is an award-winning singer, songwriter, and actress. She rocketed into the limelight around 2008 when her single Foundations hit number two on the charts. Her first album was a solid pop album, but when she tried to shift her sound to punk rock she ran into issues with her record label and they eventually dropped her. Nash has put out four albums and toured consistently. She is not a Beyoncé (I mean, there can only be one), but she is successful: she has built a loyal following, tours consistently, and is currently a part of the core ensemble for the Netflix series GLOW.

With all that in mind, this documentary is going to ask you to consider Nash an underdog, which is its fatal flaw. The first half of the movie loosely describes Nash’s early career. She dealt with terrible hate mail, was exhausted by her grueling debut tour, but came out of the experience determined to empower girls and young women to pursue their mutual love: making music. However, rather than focusing on any of this, the movie instead introduces its recurring theme: Nash cannot make the music that she wants to because her record label cannot handle it. “Record labels don’t like shouting,” she explains at one point, “I think it sounds cool. I’m into, like, punk music and rock music.”

Photo credit: Anouchka Van Riel

Halfway through the documentary we find the other chip on Nash’s shoulder, which is arguably the worse of the two. Her manager stole enough money from her that she is in danger of bankruptcy. Nash sues him and, while she is trying to get that money back, she hits a personal rock bottom. This is where the movie really lost me. For Nash “rock bottom” means moving to a smaller (but still nice) house, selling several garbage bags full of her clothes, and wondering if she’ll need to get a real job. “I don’t know how to make money outside of being on tour or making a record,” she says.

Spoilers: she does not have to get a real job.

To be clear, it is terrible that Nash almost went bankrupt. Her manager’s theft is a disgusting breach of trust and it makes sense that Nash was traumatized by the experience. She almost won me over when she admits of her situation: “It’s not that bad. I’m healthy. I’m alive. I’m on this planet,” sarcasm tinged her voice for a moment, but she finishes sincerely enough, “I have a dog. I have good friends. I have music. So. What more do you need than that, really? There’s a million other people out there that have it worse than I do.”

The problem is that even if she knows that that is true, she never acts like she thinks that is true. She worries about getting a job in a café and being recognized and shortly thereafter accepts a job hosting a geeky shopping show. Even though this gig is career-adjacent to her then-stated goal of becoming an actress, her misery is scrawled so clearly over her face that the scene is painful to watch.

Photo credit: Kelsey Hart

This documentary could have been great if we had heard from more voices and if it had stuck a different overall tone (just a little less “Woe is I”). I mean, come on. There is theft, there is feminism, there is a singer so idealistic that she spent her own money to support the programs for the girls she was coaxing into the music industry, there were so. many. amazing. outfits. And, aside from a couple weird choices (why would you do a rack focus between an empty foreground and the subject of your interview? why did we listen to her drummer read a benign text from her mother after a show?), the movie is beautifully put together.

But the takeaway from this movie is that life has thrown Nash a couple curveballs and she prevailed. The movie closes with Nash, now a multimillionaire, telling us that when she moved to LA she wanted to make a lot of money, but after losing everything (she leaves out the that she recently released a new album and landed a recurring role on a lucrative television show) she has realized that it’s not about the money: it’s about the art.

Again, If you are a hardcore Kate Nash fan, I think you will enjoy this film in spite of everything I’ve said here, but as someone who went into the documentary without a base-level fondness for her, I found it tone deaf, self-indulgent, and tedious.

This film is now available on Alamo On Demand
with apps for iOS and Android coming very soon.

Have you seen this Kate Nash documentary? Well, what did you think? 

One thought on “Documentary Review – Kate Nash: Underestimate the Girl (2020)

  1. Pingback: Member Reviews: “Kate Nash: Underestimate the Girl” – Online Association of Female Film Critics

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