Written by: Melanie Addington | January 22nd, 2022
Nothing Compares (Kathryn Ferguson, 2022) 3 out of 4 stars.
A woman who speaks her mind always faces consequences. And for some, redemption comes too late. It is true now and it was very true in 1992 when Sinéad O’Connor spoke out about her own trauma. And yet as Nothing Compares reminds us, O’Connor stood so we could, too, and that change marches on. Thirty years after her fateful Saturday Night Live appearance, Shuhada Sadaqat (O’Connor’s new chosen name when not performing) has seen a greater loss than a bump in her career.
While the documentary does not touch upon recent events in her life, including the death of her son by suicide or her own similar attempt just this year, it was acknowledged by director Kathryn Ferguson who declined a Q&A after the world premiere of Nothing Compares at Sundance, out of respect. In fact, Ferguson, a longtime documentary-short filmmaker, takes that respectful approach to the filmmaking, as well.
Since the film covers a specific period of time of the ‘80s until 1993, with only a postscript of her life after that, we primarily hear from John Reynolds, first a friend, bandmate, producer and then her first husband, as well as father to her first son, Jake. We also hear from others, including her publicist and long-term friend. We are all a byproduct of where we were raised and when. For O’Connor, raised in a patriarchal Roman Catholic Irish society with a broken mother and then in a girl’s home, her voice was her saving grace. She turned to music as therapy, a way to scream, to get her pain out. The fact that she became a popstar was never the plan.
Artist Peaches acknowledges that O’Connor spoke upon mental-health issues decades before most of us, and we now have women at the top of their game recognizing their own needs and making the choice to choose themselves, as has someone like Simone Biles. In fact, celebrities today can thank O’Connor for taking the leap to speak out, paving the way for them. As Chuck D of Public Enemy states so eloquently in the film, “The powers that be weren’t ready for her.”
The documentary is a lovely mix of b-roll, historic footage, reenactments and some edgier experimental edits, with Ferguson exploring O’Connor’s early moments up until Am I Not Your Girl?, her third album. She doesn’t apologize for her and doesn’t make excuses, just reflects back to us who she truly is: a woman not taking it from anybody. As O’Connor puts it best, “They tried to bury me; they didn’t realize I was a seed.”