**1/2 (out of four)
“We’re Bikini Kill, and we want a revolution.” That’s how singer Kathleen Hanna opens one of her performances witnessed in the documentary “The Punk Singer.” But unlike the empty words of so many other so-called activist musicians, Hanna put her money where her mouth is.
As captured by director Sini Anderson through archival and new interview footage, the now-45-year-old frontwoman co-founded the influential Riot Grrrl movement and counteracted an increasingly violent, male-driven music scene that left no place for women. Does “The Punk Singer” tell a balanced story? No, this is a movie about Hanna’s greatness. That includes irresistible anecdotes like Kurt Cobain being the only one who helped Hanna with her crackhead, stalker boyfriend, and Hanna spray-painting “Kurt smells like teen spirit” on a wall—unintentionally influencing the band credited with launching alternative music.
Still, if you’re going to mention Courtney Love punching Hanna in the face for no identifiable reason, you should at least make an effort to get Love’s side of the story. Anderson doesn’t, and she populates her film entirely with folks like Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker (of Sleater-Kinney), Joan Jett and Beastie Boy/Hanna’s husband Adam Horovitz, who all praise Hanna’s artistic voice and power in serving as a voice for the feminist movement.
The rampant misogyny in music, music industry coverage and politics obviously makes “The Punk Singer” relevant today, though it would have been nice if the film recognized those current issues head-on. Instead, there’s a simple charting of Hanna’s musical career and the misdiagnosed illness, eventually identified as Lyme Disease, that nearly took her off stage permanently.
If nothing else, it shows that sometimes health problems are the only thing that can silence a voice demanding to be heard.
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