Meet Me in the Bathroom‘s winnowed focus turns what could have been a vibrant behind-the-scenes doc into more conventional, surface-skimming fare.
Meet Me in the Bathroom, the latest documentary from VICE Studios, dives into the late-’90s/early-2000s New York music scene, drawing on multiple different strands to weave together a portrait of a new generation of musical icons, including The Strokes, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and LCD Soundsystem. Meandering their way through the scene and drawing on a mix of intimate behind-the-scenes archival footage and media appearances, directors Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern showcase both the public personas and the private lives of their subjects, focusing on the intersection between the two and the ways in which each drives the other.
With such a daunting cast of subjects, Meet Me in the Bathroom faces the challenge of communicating their practically mythic presences without being crushed under the weight of such personas. Between passionate grassroots fanbases and impressive legacies, it would be easy for Lovelace and Southern to succumb to the navel-gazing impulses that such personalities inspire, but they largely avoid such buying into any hagiographic narratives of genius or idolatry, choosing instead to pursue the more interesting path of studying what impact such narratives have on real people. Rather than glorifying the singular brilliance of Julian Casablancas (of The Strokes), Meet Me in the Bathroom uses its considerable archive access to explore the pressures that came with the level of creative control he exerted, and instead of lionizing Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs as one of the few prominent frontwomen on the scene, Lovelace and Southern take time to just how damaging her uniquely gendered experience of fame was. But perhaps most memorable is the exploration of James Murphy’s (LCD Soundsystem) early career, a minor subplot that presents a melancholy, if brief, portrait of a man finding his way to his art.
Painting the scene as a whirlwind encapsulation of post-9/11 Brooklyn, and eventually extending to America writ large, the choice to keep The Strokes at the film’s center does have its drawbacks. Even though plenty of other bands — including The Moldy Peaches, TV on the Radio, and The Rapture — are introduced, with the exception of Interpol and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, they are largely cast aside in order to keep attention on the bigger names. This winnowed focus eliminates the possibility for other, more interesting perspectives, for instance limiting female input to Karen O’s deeply mixed experience of the scene despite the presence of other women like Kimya Dawson who could offer other viewpoints. While this narrow scope does aid in precisely tracking the explosion of the scene into mainstream culture, it also inherently limits Lovelace and Southern’s vision, signaling a departure from the subculture that the directors had such intimate access to and a turn from a vibrant behind-the-scenes music documentary into more conventional, surface-skimming fare.
Originally published as part of Sundance Film Festival 2022 — Dispatch 5.