They say you should never meet your heroes because they’ll never meet your expectations. But, sometimes, they absolutely do.
Directed by Kathlyn Horan, The Return of Tanya Tucker, featuring Brandi Carlisle follows the long-awaited return of Tanya Tucker to the music scene. After the death of her father 17 years, Tucker decided to step away from the music scene as a form of self-imposed retirement. However, with the support of mega-fan Carlisle, she allows herself the freedom to tell new stories of heart and heartbreak for the next generation.
Covering the return of one of country music‘s greatest legends, Tanya Tucker is a poetic, lovefest devoted to its subject. Although Carlisle is no stranger to music success, the film allows her to play the role of cheerleader to Tucker’s musical quarterback. (In fact, what’s funniest about their relationship is that Tucker had no idea who Carlisle was when they began.) Although an icon of the music business, Tucker‘s voice had been missing for the better part of two decades, leaving an absence in the country music scene. With her return, one of country music’s most famous voices steps back into the limelight with something new to say.
Although, what most surprises about Return is the lack of music within the film. For a documentary about the return of a musical icon, one might expect numerous concert scenes that remind the viewer of their power and strength. Instead, Tucker is a far more intimate portrait. While music is featured, it is not highlighted. (In fact, I don’t think there is even one song played to its entirety within the film.)
As a result, rather than emphasize the music itself, Return becomes the story of a woman whose rise to fame came with a cost. Having released her first single the age of 13, Tucker’s journey eventually became burdened with struggles with addiction, gossip and pain of loss. While Tucker begins to tell her new stories, we are offered footage and interviews from reviews to explain her past. Although her music is beloved by millions, the film seeks to invite the viewer into her mind, allowing her to share her frailties and fears. In this way, Returnbecomes as much of a redemption story as it is the tale of a new album. Having been through so much throughout her life, Tucker is shown to have a modesty and grace that defies stardom.
Even though there’s a fire in her heart, there’s humility in her soul.
One cannot deny that there is a certain joy seeing the two musicians interact together on screen as Carlisle clearly relishes each moment that she has with the singer. (In light of this, it’s interesting that Tucker claiming that there were few women that she looked up to growing up, likely because there were less leading the industry at that time.) Despite Tucker’s initial apprehension about the new project, Carlisle‘s enthusiasm fueled her interest and gave her the strength and encouragement that she needed to continue. Treasuring each bar and note that they create together, Carlisle’s admiration of Tucker is infectious. Her appreciation of Tucker’s contribution to the music scene has inspired a generation of women and one can see her delight in the opportunity to work together.
While the film may appeal primarily to fans of the singer herself, the intimacy and openness of The Return of Tanya Tucker create a loving portrait what is worth watching. Despite its high stakes setting, Return is the portrait of one woman’s life as opposed to any grand, sensationalized tale.
And it seems like Tucker would not have it any other way.
The Return of Tanya Tucker is available in theatres on Friday, November 4th, 2022.