Written by: Heidi Shepler | November 3rd, 2022
Meet Me in the Bathroom (Will Lovelace/Dylan Southern, 2022) 3 out of 4 stars.
One of the first striking things about Meet Me in the Bathroom, from directors Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern (Shut Up and Play the Hits), is that much of the footage has an intensely personal feeling to it. Because it covers the period spanning roughly from 1999 to 2005, the film captures a moment before the omnipresence of social media and smartphones sanitized the recording of everyday life. One extraordinary clip filmed in the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks shows a sheaf of paper fluttering gently down from the sky and landing on ash-laden streets.
Paul Banks of the band Interpol leans over the fallen paper and examines it dispassionately. He’s clearly in shock, along with everyone around him. This clip is followed by a closeup of Kimya Dawson from The Moldy Peaches singing of the nightmares she had in the wake of the attacks, and a short clip of Karen O from The Yeah Yeah Yeahs staring silently and sadly into space. This intimacy of Meet Me in the Bathroom is its greatest strength. The film is unflinching in its exploration of the personal cost of fame, the difficulty women have in the field, and the ubiquitous drugs in the rock scene.
What’s missing from Meet Me in the Bathroom is more cultural and industry context. There are a few nods to bands like The Strokes not initially being considered for record deals because of pop-music standards of the time, and there are mentions of the rise of Napster. And in a film that promises to be an immersive look at the alternative scene, I can understand a wish not to get lost in industry politics.
But between the documentary covering several bands (The Moldy Peaches, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Strokes, Interpol, The Rapture, LCD Soundsystem) and the footage and interviews being focused on individuals, it begins to feel like all of these experiences happened in a vacuum. Yet the stories are so incredibly similar: lonely, talented youths in the big city find each other and create something wild, incredible, and free. But inevitably there loomed the specter of drug abuse, burnout, and personal conflict.
There is something dark in our culture that demands our musicians be gods: charismatic, mysterious, self destructive, touched by madness or brilliance or both. None of these traits are actually necessary for good music, but the expectation is all-consuming. This is explored most effectively in interviews with Karen O from The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, in which she speaks frankly about the freedom being on stage initially gave her. Then, once the band became more and more successful, the objectification started and the feelings of isolation began to close in. There is a tragic tone in some parts of Meet Me in the Bathroom, a feeling that when this specific era ended, something precious was lost. But the question remains: why does it have to be this way?