Bee Gees – How Can You Mend a Broken Heart (film review)
A definitive look at an under-appreciated band
There are a handful of music documentaries that not only embody the artists that they portray, they become something bigger – essential viewing for any fan of popular music. Muscle Shoals, The Wrecking Crew, The Sound of My Voice and 20 Feet From Stardom are all on this short list. So, now should be How Can You Mend a Broken Heart, a brand-new documentary on the Bee Gees, currently only available through the HBO Max subscription service.
The almost two hour film does such a good job of summing up the entire career of the three Brothers Gibb that I would call it the definitive Bee Gees retrospective, hands down.
Barry is the last of the surviving Gibb’s (Maurice died in 2003, while Robin passed in 2012), yet the movie manages to weave in interviews with all three brothers, so that they really do tell their own story. They manage to track down just about everyone that was a part of their band over the years, along with many of the brothers’ wives. Brother Andy Gibb, who was swept up in the Bee Gees’ frenzy, is also given ample time in the movie.
The film traces the family’s humble beginnings in Australia, to Britain, where they became hitmakers in the wake of the Beatles, with hits like “NY Mining Disaster 1941,” and “Massachusetts.” A great deal of time is spent on the brothers’ late-Sixties split, yet they never mention the album Odessa, which was the catalyst for their 18-month separation. The brothers then reunite and meld their sound to the soft, early Seventies for “Lonely Days” and “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” but find sustaining that momentum difficult.
Extremely fascinating is how the group stumbled into reinventing themselves as an R&B outfit, and how, believe it or not, we have Eric Clapton to thank for it. They touch on the “Disco Sucks” backlash, which now seems really unfair, especially considering that Bee Gees’ music still gets played wherever there’s dancing going on. Once their own hits dried up, the trio started writing hits for others, adapting once more. Eventually, the brothers found success on the Pop Charts again in the late 80’s. Oddly enough, their comeback hit “One” was not included at all in the film.
They flesh out the story of the Bee Gees by tracking down newer artists. Nick Jonas and Noel Gallagher both offer some really good insight from being in a band with your brothers, while Mark Ronson and Chris Martin offer perspectives on the Bee Gees’ influence on current music. But, it’s Justin Timberlake who steals the show in his summation of the band (you’ll just have to watch the film to see it).
There is so much love put into this documentary. You can see it in the multiple performances that they weave together for a single song. You see it in the home movies that they intersperse throughout. And, you hear it in the studio chatter and isolated tracks of Bee Gees’ tunes that they unearth, which add to the story’s depth. There’s a cassette demo of “How Deep Is Your Love” that is just spine-tingling.
Above all, we’re left with a deeper appreciation for Barry, Robin and Maurice, not just as progenitors of disco as in the movie Saturday Night Fever, but as brilliant artists who were able to change with pop trends (multiple times), writing timeless hits both for themselves and for many other artists as well. The Bee Gees’ deserve a great documentary and How Can You Mend a Broken Heart is it.
A note about how to watch: right now, the film is only available through HBO Max, which is a subscription service. While $14.95 a month makes it one of the most expensive of the streaming platforms, word out of Hollywood is that several blockbuster movies will be released on HBO Max the same day they go to theaters. If you’re willing to stay home to watch these new releases, it’s worth the plunge. —Tony Peters