Documentarian Alexandria Bombach shows the humor, music, and impact that the Indigo Girls have had in their decades-long career.
In It’s Only Life After All, documentarian Alexandria Bombach shows Amy Ray and Emily Saliers—otherwise known as the Indigo Girls—a sketch from Saturday Night Live, which pokes fun at the band. As they watch the clip, there’s still a sense of frustration at the way that their duo has been boiled down to little more than just two lesbians with a sense of social justice playing folk music. At a certain point, Indigo Girls became an easy joke, much like Lilith Fair, which the group was widely associated with, and which is never mentioned in the documentary. But Bombach’s documentary shows that there’s much more to the Indigo Girls, presenting a remarkable duo who have not only meant the world to countless people, but have used their music and their platform to change the world as best they can.
The Indigo Girls documented their careers through home videos, cassette recordings, and tons of other media, so It’s Only Life After All offers an incredibly personal point-of-view for this group. In one particularly endearing tape, we hear Amy and Emily, in one of their first times playing together, discussing how they’re going to need to make excuses to practice together again. At a certain point, they decide that they’re not going to need to make excuses.
But even without an existing interest in the Indigo Girls, Bombach makes the audience appreciate what makes this band so great. Not only do we hear the growth of the band over decades, but Amy and Emily are genuinely fun to be around, cracking jokes, poking fun at each other, and laughing about their pasts. In one scene, we watch a younger Emily Saliers singing an incredibly earnest song, only for the present Emily Saliers to watch and cringe, commenting on her problems with the song now.
Bombach also focuses on the equally important side of Indigo Girls—their interest in activism—which is also handled with care. Bombach shows how the Indigo Girls used their popularity to push for issues that they were truly passionate about, and how their mere existence helped so many people. Outside of concerts, we watch as person after person states that Indigo Girls were integral to them coming out, with some going as far to say that the Indigo Girls changed their lives. For many, the simple fact that Indigo Girls were around and playing music that resonated with people like them made a huge difference.
Yet maybe the most impressive aspect of It’s Only Life After All is how the documentarian attempts to recontextualize the audience’s perspective of this band by showing who they truly are. In one scene, Amy and Emily read a New York Times review of their music that has clearly weighed on them for a long time. They laugh at the review, but it’s also clear that this type of review has caused them pain in the past. The review is full of assumptions and sexist statements—the type of postulation that turned the band into an easy punchline. Emily eventually says, “We were always accused of being earnest,” and if there’s anything that It’s Only Life After All fully proves, it’s that this band is far more than just lesbian folk rock that takes itself seriously.
No matter what your preconceived notions about the Indigo Girls are, Bombach’s excellent exploration of their lives and career in It’s Only Life After All breaks these down and shows the hilarious, thoughtful, and impactful band that should be even bigger than they already are. But even as a personal story, It’s Only Life After All shows how this band and these two women are still works in progress, still growing and shifting in fascinating ways. It’s Only Life After All should be a joy for Indigo Girls fans, and after watching this documentary, it’ll be hard to not call yourself a fan if you aren’t already.