KATE NASH: UNDERESTIMATE THE GIRL

(DOC NYC ran November 6-15. Lead critic Chris Reed is there bringing you tons of coverage so stay tuned! Like what you see here on Hammer to Nail? Why not pay just $1.00 per month via Patreon to help keep us going?)

I come to an appreciation of singer-songwriter Kate Nash not as a fan of her music, which I know not at all, but as a lover of the Netflix series GLOW. In that wonderful fictionalized look back at the 1980s “Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling” (or G.L.O.W.), Nash plays Rhonda Richardson, aka Britannica, whose English accent finds her cast as the ostensible supersmart member of the team. It’s a great program, and she shines as much as anyone in the ensemble. I vaguely knew that she had a background as a somewhat fallen pop star, but that was the extent of it. What fun, then, to learn her full story in this peppy new documentary, Kate Nash: Underestimate the Girl, from director Amy Goldstein (The Hooping Life) about her rise, decline and now gradual return to the spotlight. Do not, in any way, underestimate the girl.

That title comes from the eponymous song Nash released in 2012, which pointed her in a different musical direction than what she had previously explored, a new journey which prompted her record label to drop her. We start before that, from the moment, post-high school, when, working at a dead-end job at Nando’s, she broke her foot and, forced to stay at home, decided to try her hand at writing music. From there, we follow her to her 2007 debut album “Made of Bricks” (with its hit single “Foundations”) to the manic schedule of touring upon which she thereafter embarked. Nash’s sound, at this point in her career, was bright and energetic, but of a kind designed to please both industry executives and her teen-girl fanbase. It was when she decided to branch out that her troubles began.

Ignorant as I was of all of this, I found the film extremely compelling, as Nash’s story twists and turns in surprising ways. Forced to independently fund her third album, “Girl Talk” and subsequent touring, she finds herself struggling, financially, for the first time since her breakout. This does not deter her, and as she grows as an artist, so, too, does she mature as a human being. Surrounding herself with a group of powerful female rockers, she crafts an exciting image backed up by innovative tunes. Let us not underestimate her, indeed.

As the film makes clear, not only is it hard to make it in the music industry, but it is especially hard for a woman to make it. Ruthless predators abound, and one had better be prepared to parry and thrust back lest one fall prey to their rapacity. Fortunately, Nash has the support of some fine individuals, among them family, friends and fellow musicians, all of whom are interviewed here and offer their take on why they think she is special. In addition, Goldstein includes quite a lot of self-filmed “confessionals” (as I call them), where Nash expresses her hopes and fears over the years. What emerges is a comprehensive, thoroughly engaging portrait of a woman who has made it on her own terms and is back for more.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

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