As long as the focus is on Mia and Elliot, the film is involving and moving.
Assuming that a conventional documentary about Australian musician Nick Cave would be unrewarding, the makers of "20,000 Days on Earth" wisely fed their mercurial subject's ego by allowing him to walk them through a semi-fictionalized account of a typical day in his life. Having previously directed some music videos for Cave's band The Bad Seeds, "20,000 Days on Earth" co-directors Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard know not to underestimate Cave. In his music, he routinely celebrates/deconstructs his public persona: brutalizer, coward, agnostic, and wannabe deity. "20,000 Days on Earth" is accordingly not a biography, but a portrait of the artist as a work-in-constant-progress.
Still, Forsyth and Pollard keep Cave on task, and cannily made acting naturally the main theme of "20,000 Days on Earth," as we see in the film's best scene. Retreating to his recording studio, Cave lays down the vocals soundtrack for "Higgs-Boson Blues," one of the best songs on "Push the Sky Away," the Bad Seeds' most recent album. Cave's soulful performance, shot in real-time and in extreme close-up, is that much more impressive once you realize he's playing a song for Forsyth and Pollard before he's performed it in front of a live audience. More importantly, he's singing without the Bad Seeds, a group that serves as Cave's suit of armor. Cave knows he's not young anymore, and won't always be able to control his work or how its perceived. Watching him act accordingly is really inspiring.
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