Son and namesake of an illustrious country singer, Bobby Bare Jr. made the differences between him and his patriarch very clear when his band released an album on Immortal Records (Korn, Incubus). Since then he’s been furiously touring as a solo artist, rocking with various backing bands and making just enough money to keep the roof over his family’s head. “Don’t Follow Me (I’m Lost)” chaperones a series of concerts in 2010 (timed with the release of the artist’s A Storm, A Tree, My Mother’s Head) while providing a succinct idea of Bobby’s character and musical career. Mostly, though, it deals with the musician’s struggle to continue his modestly successful creative career while juggling his responsibilities as a parent, with four kids and a new wife at home. Shot in a chaotic mix of different film speeds and stocks, William Miller’s documentary is a pleasant ride and a great lead-in to Bare’s career but doesn’t ascend to much more than that. Fans will dig it and some newcomers will take to his tunes but the songwriter’s story isn’t exactly one that will go down in history.
At eight years of age, Bare’s father invited the young boy on stage to perform “Daddy What If,” a precious song that even earned the two a joint-Grammy nomination. This is where the movie begins: it was in those tender years that the subject was bitten with the music bug, so it’s only natural to start things off there. Miller zooms ahead, mixing some complimentary interviews (“My Morning Jacket” members make a notable appearance) about the subject with the man himself spending quality family time before heading off on the next long, grueling tour. The latter offers a particularly genuine moment, a diversion from the band-doc trappings involving one of the children: while papa was away, a wee one nearly rode his tricycle into the bordering river. It’s a sweet moment, finding Bobby in vulnerable-father mode, laughing at the near-crisis but also deeply relieved that it only amounted to nothing more than a four-year-old’s colorful story. The tale — revealed as a kind of off-the-cuff interview between pop and offspring — feels vibrant, a genuine surprise within the strict regimen of a music doc. In fact, if the filmmaker would have seized more of these kinds of opportunities he might have had something truly special on his hands.
But don’t take that as a dismissal of ‘Don’t Follow Me’ — and let’s not pine for what could’ve been, pushing away what we actually have — as the beginning of the expedition wields a particularly gripping arc. Bare takes the band Blue Giant along with him to provide musical accompaniment, allowing them to play as the opening act as well — a kind gesture that ultimately mutates into an exhausting one as tensions rise as the group moves from venue to venue on practically no sleep. Things escalate even further when the tour-mates have trouble getting their money from various club owners — something that is not Bare’s fault at all, yet seeing him walk away with cash in his pocket doesn’t exactly make the situation any brighter.
Things level out, the band gets paid, nobody blows up, and pressures are lifted. Unfortunately this is the film’s peak, and Miller coasts for the rest of the running time, not quite finding anything particularly interesting to focus on other than the band playing various venues. Bare has a moment in which he locks horns with his ex-wife via cellphone that’s quite raw, but that alone can’t shake the movie out of its content autopilot. Part of the problem is that it kind of falls into a repetitive rhythm that isn’t terribly varied — song/interview/song/interview/song/interview — and neither of the two elements are at all strong enough to obscure/eradicate the monotony or rescue the film from its serviceable demeanor. One particularly consistent component of ‘Don’t Follow Me’ is the cinematography, which mixes film and digital, color and black-and-white to give off a really chaotic, agitated disorder, an aesthetic that perfectly lends itself to life on the road. The look of a documentary can often be an afterthought, so a striking visual style with a precise reasoning behind it is more than welcome.
After the tour things calm down, relatively speaking: Bobby returns to his family life with no huge bump in his career while lamenting the fact that his newborn probably has no idea who he is. It’s a modest end to a generally unobtrusive film, one that was never downright bad and contained the occasional charm and bright spot. But maybe, at the end of the day, Bobby Bare Jr. just isn’t a terribly fascinating figure, at least one that isn’t strong enough to be worthy of the film treatment. “Don’t Follow Me (I’m Lost)” is generally entertaining, if just a tad unremarkable. [B-]