We begin with home movie footage showing a pair messing with an electronic keyboard, preparing to show their parents a new song they had written. The pair are The Moldy Peaches, a band perhaps synonymous with the iconic Juno soundtrack, and the way in which it helped a whole new generation discover the twee indie pop of the late 1980s and mid-1990s. The song – “Downloading Porn With Davo” – is a scratchy, lowkey DIY rock song that brings to mind Jeffrey Lewis, Daniel Johnston, and the humour of bands like the Dead Kennedys. Thinking back to Juno, to this sound, and to The Moldy Peaches in general, Meet Me in the Bathroom starts as it means to go on – centering not just New York, and its ‘00s indie revival – but nostalgia.
Meet Me in the Bathroom is not a revolutionary documentary. It doesn’t seek to change the way we see music documentaries, and, in fact, it would not be harsh to call it a documentary by numbers. Here are the key players, here the hidden gems, and here the underappreciated outliers. Though, oddly, a band from the latter category, Interpol, have had no shortage in success. The documentary is often at its best charting the histories of the film’s three key players – The Strokes, Karen O, and James Murphy. Their rise, struggles, and relationships defined much of the scene the film sets itself in. Their tales touch a host of interesting subplots; from the widespread use of drugs, the scene’s misogyny, and the exodus of artists to Williamsburg – helping it become the gentrified middle class haven we recognise so well from shows like Girls.
The most interesting aspect of the film, as is the case for most films of this ilk, is that it indoctrinates a new generation into the cult of nostalgia. There are no shortage of documentaries on the hedonistic rock days of the 1970s, the delirious and heavenly pop of the 1980s, and the grungy hazy beats of the 1990s. Now indie kids of the 2000s may also revel in their past. “I remember DFA Records!” is key to the experience of this film. And in that respect, it works. It is fun to reminisce about the bands we grew up with, to see them fresh faced as we remember them. Music lends itself perfectly to this. Not only do we remember how pretty a young Julian Casablancas was, but the opening chords to “Last Nite” symbolise a key sound to many of our adolescences– much as I’m sure Britpop and grunge riffs do for the generation prior.
Unfortunately, however, nostalgia is not the key to great cinema, and for all the fun we have remembering, the film fails to interrogate the scene or dig deeper into its hidden gems. Nor do we fast-forward to the present day, where many of the scene’s key players are still massive figures in the indie scene, and some – yes, I am referring to Casablancas again – are quite publicly struggling with the very issues the film seems to regard as key character traits.
Meet Me in the Bathroom is not a classic music documentary. It is not a great documentary in general, nor is it even a great survey of the New York indie scene during the 2000s. If you are too lazy to dig out all the interviews, YouTube videos, and music videos you used to watch of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV On the Radio, and LCD Soundsystem (and you don’t have the stamina to trudge through the more in-depth book the film takes its name from, albeit with a similar level of analysis), then this might be the film for you.