Country Legend Gets Deserved Comeback

Dec 20, 2022

This review was originally part of our 2022 Toronto International Film Festival coverage.

The Return of Tanya Tucker: Featuring Brandi Carlile, from documentarian Kathlyn Horan, isn’t about the extensive and impressive career of Tanya Tucker, or exploring her past and complications in the country music industry. Instead, Horan makes The Return of Tanya Tucker a new start for the legend, thanks to the help of Brandi Carlile and her passion for Tucker’s music and accomplishments.

Instead of exploring this past, Horan almost flies through Tucker’s decades-long career, showing us her early beginnings in country music through the present day via a quick montage that hits all the major bullet points, but never focuses too long on the moments that are behind Tucker. The Return of Tanya Tucker is about looking forward, not back, and Horan wastes no time setting the groundwork before focusing on the present.

The Return of Tanya Tucker focuses on Carlile and Shooter Jennings as they produce “While I’m Livin,’” Tucker’s first album of original music in seventeen years. While Carlile grew up with Tucker’s voice, she is aware that Tucker hasn’t been given the same credit as artists like Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, and Dolly Parton received later in their careers. Not only does The Return of Tanya Tucker become a story about this country music great finding where she belongs in this point in her career, but this also becomes a story of the passion and dedication Carlile has in making sure that Tucker receives the credit she deserves, and that a whole new audience appreciates the greatness of Tucker’s music.

Image via Sony Pictures Classics

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As we watch the recording of what will eventually become “While I’m Livin,” we see the brilliance of both Tucker and Carlile. Without effort, Tucker can break out into a song that could melt your soul, with a voice that holds an incredible amount of power over the listener. Meanwhile, Carlile as producer knows exactly how to enhance and perfect Tucker’s performance, a lifelong fan who now holds the keys to the musician’s future. Their connection is immediate, and it’s a joy to watch these two country music greats collaborate in a way that makes both stronger as musicians.

While Horan focuses on the present and future, that lack of spending too much time in the past does make The Return of Tanya Tucker occasionally seem a bit too minimalistic in its goals. The Return of Tanya Tucker is full of charm and love for music, but it sometimes feels like Horan is skating over larger issues. For example, Horan touches briefly on the sexism in country music, how Tucker liked to have fun in a way that saw criticism, whereas male country music stars got away with much worse. This type of judgment is what led Tucker to spend years out of the limelight. It’s an important part of how we get to the present, yet since it’s in the past, it mostly remains in the past.

Image via Sony Pictures Classics

The same could be said of Tucker’s smoking—which is hinted could have an impact on her performances—and Tucker’s drinking, which even Carlile points out the frequency of morning drinks. The Return of Tanya Tucker certainly doesn’t have to go in-depth on these parts of Tucker’s life, but at a certain point, it seems like Horan attempting to avoid issues that could be important to discuss in Tucker’s return.

For better or worse, The Return of Tanya Tucker has its sights set on the future and the positives in Tucker’s life, and that makes for an extremely charming and uplifting documentary about new chances, new possibilities in life, the power of music, and the joy of giving your all for the things that you love. The Return of Tanya Tucker isn’t attempting to be a hard-hitting deep dive into Tucker’s life, and that’s probably for the best, and that focus on the positive makes this one of the most delightful documentaries of the year. The bond between Tucker and Carlile is extremely lovely to watch grow and evolve over the course of this album recording, and watching the fruits of their labor after, with Tucker returning to touring, and an appreciation from the Grammy Awards is a delight, as if we’re as invested in Tucker’s return as Carlile is. Even if you’re not a fan of the music of Tucker or Carlile, The Return of Tanya Tucker: Featuring Brandi Carlile will have you hoping for the best for both of these incredible musicians.

Rating: B

The Return of Tanya Tucker: Featuring Brandi Carlile is now in theaters.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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