Documentary films are often so fraught with stuffy self-importance they forget the first rule of filmmaking: Entertain the audience.
Searching for Tony Joe is an unabashed crowd-pleaser because it follows that rule to the letter. What's it about? Four guys go on a quest to find MIA "swamp rocker" Tony Joe White, a popular crooner in the 60s who had a couple of hits, plus wrote songs for Elvis Presley and other big names.
But this isn't really a movie about Tony Joe. It's a movie about the four guys and their often-clueless, always-hilarious road trip from Austin to Nashville, interviewing people along the way, a few of whom actually know who White is, but all of whom are curious or bizarre in their own way. By the time we actually meet Tony Joe himself, the audience is as thrilled as the crew is to meet this genuinely American character.
If you can catch Tony Joe at a festival near you, do so. It's barely over 60 minutes long, but it's hysterical the entire time and ranks as one of the funniest filmgoing experiences I've had this year. (The film is not in distribution partially due to copyright issues over Tony Joe's songs, included in the current version of the movie, so you can't buy a tape -- yet.)
Unlike the vapid and clueless Anthem, which had a couple of people on a road trip searching for "the real America" or some such nonsense, these guys are the real America.
[Full disclosure: Three of the four crew members are friends of mine, and I have a mention in the credits.]
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5