Credit: Heidi Zumbrun/Tribeca Film Festival
by Conor Truax Featured Film

Linda Perry: Let It Die Here — Don Hardy [Tribeca ’24 Review]

June 19, 2024

Don Hardy’s career as a documentary filmmaker has spanned an eclectic range of themes that are bound, in some way, by an interest in mystery, particularly the mystery of trauma and tragedy, and how those caught by their concurrence organize their lives according to new terms. In his latest effort, Linda Perry: Let It Die Here, the director’s chosen subject is the eponymous, prolific songwriter-producer-scorer and former leader of 4 Non Blondes, perhaps best known for their massively popular single “What’s Up?And so begins Hardy’s documentary in derivative terms that seem to struggle to reconcile the film’s portraiture with the complexity of its subject. It operates according to a structure that, by this point in the lifecycle of Netflix-grade docudramas, feels relatively rote; there is the introductory montage with chopped-and-screwed media, giving the viewer a snapshot of Perry’s media notice; then, Hardy brings us down to earth, sat alongside Perry in her studio, telling us what she’s been up to all this time. 

“Linda knows what she would write for Madonna,” she says. “But what would she write for Linda? The object is not to edit yourself.” This early quote provides some meta-textual commentary on Hardy’s approach itself; inevitably, Perry is clearly editing herself, and if it weren’t for her own self-erasure, there would still remain the problem of Hardy’s gaze. “I bleed, I hurt, I just don’t tell you,” she says to the camera, creating an immediate paradox of self-reference, one rife with cliché at odds with the ingenuity of a distinctive musician who seems otherwise allergic to it. 

Perry, as we learn, is indeed a complicated figure. Her mother abused her as a child, leading her to a lifelong struggle with unhealthy coping mechanisms, including the abuse of drugs and self, as well as other control-oriented pathologies that are generally rewarded both socially and financially, namely, workaholism. When we meet Perry, she is producing for Dolly Parton and Kate Hudson, organizing a gender equity event for South by Southwest, and financially supporting her mother, now in hospice, who continues to attempt to manipulate her children, pitting them against one another. Perry’s main source of support and inspiration, outside of herself, appears to be her nine-year-old son, who giddily accompanies her to songwriting sessions and sweetly reminds her that nobody loves her more than him. 

To his credit, Hardy doesn’t blight the emotion of Perry’s struggle with cheap hagiography, or, at least, that isn’t how it seems. But in truth, the credit is owed to Perry, whose incessant drive and self-criticism prevent Hardy’s documentary from falling into the act of outright pedestalling. This is the fundamental tension at the heart of Hardy’s documentary. What differentiates a competent documentarian like Hardy from a prolific one like Albert Maysles or Frederick Wiseman is their prioritization of leading their inquiry with curiosity rather than spectacle. Hardy looks for rote spectacle, creating a superficial sheen that gets in the way of moving beyond an edited impression conveyed to the audience. In moments of climactic ardor — whether painful, during a breakdown, or triumphant, during a songwriting process — Hardy defers to hyperstylizations, whether sophisticated claymation or broken television static, that create an unnecessary and disillusioning distance between viewer and subject. In one particularly offensive misstep, Perry breaks down in a self-tape in a hotel room, and Hardy elects to insolently filter the video feed to appear like a livestream-threatening disconnect. 

The problems with Hardy’s documentary do not make it unworthy of its while; Perry’s charisma, discipline, and tendency toward autocritique remain plenty to consider. But what could have otherwise been a revelatory documentary, distinct from the hordes of others of its form that have hit streaming services in assembly-line fashion in recent years, is instead relegated to a satisfied mediocrity by a filmmaker whose ingenuity simply cannot match that of his subject.

Published as part of Tribeca Film Festival 2024 — Dispatch 3.