SXSW 2024: Diane Warren: Relentless, Thank You Goodnight: The Bon Jovi Story, Omar and Cedric: If This Ever Gets Weird, Preconceived

I don’t know what went on behind the scenes to enable what looks like honesty. Warren could’ve gotten away with 90 minutes of image enhancement in exchange for access. She’s the powerhouse who wrote “Rhythm of the Night,” “Nothin’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” “If I Could Turn Back Time,” “Blame it On the Rain,” “Because You Loved Me,” “Unbreak My Heart” [the French narrator from “SpongeBob Squarepants” chimes in: “Four…hours…laterrrrrrrr….”] and 2023’s “The Fire Inside.” She’s one of the most commercially successful songwriters who ever lived, with a publishing company valued at $500 million. But the movie feels as if somebody just rang the front doorbell of her house or her publishing company headquarters, walked in and started filming. Editors Dava Whisenant and Jeffrey Elmont understand the concept of “performance editing” exemplified by great 1970s drama editors like Dede Allen (“Bonnie and Clyde,” “Dog Day Afternoon”), cutting in a way that emphasizes the specific rhythms of how Warren and other interviewees talk, walk, and interact with others, so that you start to appreciate them as you appreciate your friends.

The movie is filled with photos of Warren from her childhood in Los Angeles in the ’50s and ‘60s through the present. Whether she’s in the frame by herself or with colleagues and loved ones, it’s a certainty she’ll be giving the camera the middle finger and grinning. The image sums up “Relentless.” Warren doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her personally as long as she’s making music. Her house is a mess. She says she has Asperger’s syndrome, she’s clearly a hoarder, and her close friends say she does certain things the same way each time down to the tiniest detail out of superstition and a belief that her extremely idiosyncratic working methods are key to her success. There are signs all over her house warning people not to clean anything. She cuts her hair short so she doesn’t have to worry about it as much, dresses super-comfortably and, according to director Bess Kargman, keeps interviews short because, after answering questions for even a brief while, she’d start to feel anxiety over not working. She’s only had one boyfriend (a producer she was with for six years) and says she’s not interested in men because she’d rather write. Paul Stanley of Kiss speculates that maybe “it’s easier to write about heartbreak when you don’t have to live it (but) you fear it.” She adores pets, though. Her Siamese (named Mouse) is depicted as the great love of her life. 

Warren’s personal assistant is a woman she’s known since childhood, and the scenes of the two of them driving around LA are hilarious; sometimes Warren will be ranting about something and there’ll be a cut to her friend behind the wheel of her car wearing giant sunglasses, smacking her chewing gum, and nodding. Her closest friends are the ones who speak most frankly about her shortcomings. Cher, especially, seems to see into her soul. She treats Warren like a kid sister, busting her chops on the phone. Warren is, as they say, a character. She’s so profane that Martin Scorsese’s mother would have wagged a finger at her. She sits at the keyboard and works out melodies, and when she surprises herself, she’ll recoil in surprise and delight, blurting out, “Th’ f*ck was that?” She can’t help being who she is and never seems to have given a thought to what it would be like to be someone else. By the end, I felt as if I’d known her my whole life and would fight anyone who talked bad about her, even if what they were saying was 100% accurate.


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