Keith LaFountaine’s review published on Letterboxd:
"You made the film I wanted to see." - Frances Bean Cobain to Brett Morgen after seeing Montage of Heck.
I first discovered Nirvana in 6th grade. I was in Home Economics class, and there was this girl who loved Nirvana. We would sew, or cook, and such and we would listen to music. At that time I was really into the post-grunge scene (I think I listened to nothing but Three Days Grace and Seether for days on end) and she would brutally mock me for it. She would make fun of my looks, make fun of my walk, my acne; every fault she could find, she exploited. And on the last day of class, I decided to bring her what she wanted: Nirvana. So I scoured my parents' CD collection, looking past Pink Floyd and Zeppelin and Aerosmith and Snoop Dogg (which felt very out of place) until I found MTV Unplugged in New York. I didn't know what I was holding; I only cared that is said Nirvana on the case. And then I brought it in. Her eyes lit up, and she smiled at me. She said: "I would hug you if you weren't so gross" and then popped the CD into the computer to play.
Fast-forward five years. I'm a bullied teenager, going crazy with hormones, feeling like an outsider. I didn't fit in with the cool kids, or the gamers, or any other crowd. I would eat breakfast and lunch by myself, listening to Rage Against the Machine with headphones in. I rarely smiled. One day, I was on Youtube and I saw an advertisement for Nevermind. That day in 6th grade came rushing back to me, and so did the suppressed vehemence I had for that girl who bullied me. But I was also curious. So I quickly typed in "Nirvana" into the search bar, and clicked on the first video: Smells Like Teen Spirit. Four minutes later I was desperately trying to dislike the song as the image of the bully remained in my head, but I couldn't help but feel awe wash over me. And from there, I became a huge Nirvana fan.
Kurt Cobain has always been an enigma of sorts. He was a complex man full of doubt, terror, love, and passion. He was a walking contradiction in many ways, and Montage of Heck shows him as such: a person. Most documentaries about Kurt involve a narrator speculating, or psychologists wondering, or people hypothesizing what exactly happened to Kurt; what caused his downfall, what caused his depression, and further. Brett Morgen doesn't do this. He doesn't interpret Cobain's lyrics, or his life, to find meaning. He lets Kurt speak. With unprecedented access to Cobain's life, Morgen skillfully crafted a tapestry filled with strands of life. We see Kurt from his days as a child, to his days as a teenage punk, to his rise to fame, to his eventual fall. We see it all, and the end result is a completely different image of the man many (think they) know and love.
The ever present soundtrack is one of the best aspects of this documentary. As I said, I'm a huge Nirvana fan and listening to every song - from Teen Spirit to School in this documentary made everything all the more powerful. It added atmosphere and context.
I guess if I had to sum up this documentary with one word it would be: heartbreaking. Kurt's life was not easy, and he was not a simple child or man. He was complex and indecipherable - even to himself. He wanted things he wasn't sure how to handle, and he wanted a life he eventually threw away. This is a film every Nirvana fan, rock lover, musician, film enthusiast - and every person - should see. Even if you don't like Nirvana. Even if you don't like Kurt. This is a powerful experience in every way.