The Bye Bye Man
The Bye Bye Man is the kind of film that is so boring and bereft of anything of possible interest that it becomes infuriating.
Bill Withers' songs run through our memories: "Ain't No Sunshine," "Lean on Me," "Use Me," "Grandma's Hands." Learning there was a new documentary about him, I wondered how long ago he died. The answer is, he still lives and survives as a happy man. "Still Bill" is about a man who topped the charts, walked away from it all in 1985 and is pleased that he did.
He didn't burn out. He hasn't burned out. He was free of the demons of drink and drugs. He is still happily married to his first and only wife. His grown kids still live at home -- Kori, who would like to follow her dad into music, and Todd, who is a law student. Marcia, his wife, has her MBA from UCLA and has manifestly looked after their finances, as we can guess after a look around their rambling hilltop home in a high-priced area of Los Angeles.
Bill is 71. He was born in the middle of the segregated South in the mining hamlet of Slab Fork, W.Va. Did that experience leave scars? Not deep ones, apparently. On a homecoming trip for a class reunion, he walks the little town with a childhood friend, now the mayor, and they recall skinny-dipping in the creek and walking to school. Yes, they had to go to the back door of the grocery store to get an ice cream cone. He seems to remember the ice cream better than the back door. And he remembers his grandmother sitting on the front porch and singing.
Bill Withers was scarred, however. He had a serious stutter until he was 20. We don't learn why it went away. Maybe music helped. The most emotional scenes in "Still Bill" show him accepting an award from a stutterers' association, and then talking with a roomful of kids who stutter. His advice is calm: He identifies with them, he observes that stuttering can make other people nervous, he says "we have to go just that little bit further to help them feel at ease."