Mini-Review: Pearl Jam Twenty (2011)

Starring Eddie Vedder, Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament, Mike McCready, Matt Cameron (collectively Pearl Jam)

Directed by Cameron Crowe

Expectations: High, I love Pearl Jam.


Pearl Jam Twenty is more of a celebration of the first twenty years than the true in-depth documentary you might be expecting. In this way, it seems like a “for fans, by fans” look at the band, albeit fans with access to a shitload of footage and the band members themselves. As such, the film lends itself to people who already love Pearl Jam, and I doubt it will capture the hearts of the unfaithful. Pearl Jam and specifically Eddie Vedder have never really cared who they alienated or pissed off, so this aspect of the film shouldn’t come as a surprise. This is not to say that it the film is cocky, instead the band members come off as real, honest artists that are simply staying true to their game. I’m a huge Pearl Jam fan, jumping on board late around the time of Riot Act‘s release (2002). Ever since then my love for them as a band has only grown, and with the release of their last two albums, Pearl Jam & Backspacer, they’ve seemingly mastered the art of melding artistic integrity with compelling music as both are excellent representations of the band.

It’s a little hard for me to objectively review the film as I am such a big fan, but I found PJ20 to be always interesting and enlightening, even when it was relating information I already knew. Director Cameron Crowe does a great job editing together what must have been hundreds of hours of band home videos, TV appearances and live footage into a flowing narrative. I take issue with a couple of music choices (such as playing a track from 1998’s Yield over a key moment from the early 90s, thus misleading an uninformed viewer into thinking the song is related), but realistically with this amount of footage and songs to juggle, I can’t criticize too much as I know I could do no better. I do wish there were more band interviews. They are all fairly reclusive so to hear them speak candidly is a treat. As a writer, I’d also enjoy more in-depth looks at their songwriting process, and thankfully the DVD extras reveal a couple more scenes of this nature edited for time. The scene on the genesis of Faithful is one of my favorite moments and it’s not even in the film!

If you dig Pearl Jam and you feel like celebrating the band you love for a couple of hours, definitely check this one out. I wouldn’t call it essential, but it does offer lots of great moments throughout. Non-fans should probably tread more warily, but the film does do a good job of painting a picture of why they did what they did when they did it, and a new fan (or a lost fan) might appreciate this dedication to their art and be intrigued to delve into their rich catalog of tunes.

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