Sundance 2012 Review: SHUT UP AND PLAY THE HITS Is More Entertaining Offstage Than On


I've got a confession to make: before seeing Shut Up and Play The Hits, I had never heard an LCD Soundsystem song. But that gave me a unique vantage point from which to view this film, as I don't think many people who haven't heard of the band would watch a 105 minute documentary about them. Most good documentaries simultaneously educate and entertain, so did this one meet the criteria?

Unlike Michael Rappaport's superlative music documentary Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest from last year's festival, Shut Up doesn't aim to provide any context for how its musical subjects fit into the larger picture of the music scene. Instead, it concentrates almost solely on frontman James Murphy and his decision to walk away from the band and retire at age 41. Intercut with footage from their final concert at Madison Square Garden, the doc contrasts the insanity of being a rock star with the crushing normality of life after lights go down. "If it's a funeral, let's have the best funeral ever," reads the opening text as the movie begins. And there truly is a sense that something died when the group disbanded, leaving Murphy alone with his dog, busying himself with cleaning coffee makers and visiting storage warehouses full of musical equipment. It's heartbreaking, but captivating to watch since the downfall of the band was Murphy's choice.

There is a TON of concert footage here - by my count, nine songs were played in their entirety - but if you've ever watched a DVD of a live music performance, you've seen all this before. There's nothing new stylistically, and because of the repetitive nature of the lyrics in a majority of the chosen songs, these sections drag on for an interminable amount of time. I kept waiting for them to get back to the traditional documentary sections, a good portion of which consisted of a journalist doing an interview with Murphy and asking him some legitimately great questions about his decision.

If you're a fan of the band, I'd imagine this will be both a nostalgic goodbye and a way to reconcile with Murphy's decision. As a non-fan, I found the mentality behind his choice the most interesting part of the documentary. There are tiny cameos of Donald Glover, Aziz Ansari, and Reggie Watts at the concert, but no interviews with them at all. It's all about Murphy, and as someone who has made such a unique decision, it's fascinating to see the wheels turning in his head as he struggles to come to grips with his own choice and wonders if maybe, just maybe, he made the wrong call.