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Movie Review: Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone

Documentary movie poster featuring an illustration of the band Fishbone

Titling this particular documentary Everyday Sunshine serves multiple purposes. First, of course, is that “Everyday Sunshine” is the name of one of Fishbone’s most well-known songs. However, the title is also at once both an ironic counterpoint on the punk fusion band’s tragic career, as well as a commentary on the band’s core members’ undying struggle to see the silver lining that’s continually just out of their sight.

Yes, filmmakers Chris Metzler and Lev Anderson are forced to follow the same trajectory as other music documentaries: An upstart young band quickly become superstars only to be derailed from a promising career thanks to an uncaring music industry and turmoil from within its own ranks. The band then hits its lowest point, only to begin its long, difficult struggle to get back on top.

That storyline is impossible to avoid because that’s exactly what happened to Fishbone. Yet, sensing the cliched traps this genre has lain for itself, Metzler and Anderson very smartly and successfully elevate the material into a mythology grander than just this band’s existence.

Oddball California mythology is Metzler’s forte, who previously co-directed the amazing documentary Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea with Jeff Springer. (Here on Everyday Sunshine, Springer worked as editor and cinematographer.) Like the devastated Salton Sea, Fishbone’s existence is defined by a particular set of West Coast circumstances.

Los Angeles has always been and continues to be an extremely segregated city. Attempting to rectify that problem in the ’70s, government officials hopped on the fad of enforced busing, which transported inner city African-American kids out to the lily white suburbs. Several of those kids happened to be many of the founding members of Fishbone who, for obvious reasons, gravitated towards each other in an unfamiliar setting.

With a complex backstory to their origin, Fishbone’s early days are recounted via interviews with the band’s members as well as narration provided by Laurence Fishburne, whose talent is used sparingly throughout the entire film. But, again, instead of following the traditional route of documentaries of this sort — e.g. relying solely on talking heads and archival photographs and video — Metzler and Anderson liven things up through animation. The young Fishbone are cast as cartoon characters somewhat reminiscent of the old Jackson 5 Saturday morning cartoons.

The animation really brings this time period alive, making the documentary bounce along with a fun simplicity that softens the heavy history lesson needed to explain how these teenagers were brought together. Plus, the way the band members tell it, while busing transported these kids to a more bucolic setting everyday, they still had to go home every night and weekend to some pretty rough and tumble home neighborhoods.

But, as wide-eyed cartoon characters, Fishbone are able to transcend their situation through their music where they could find fun and freedom. They exist in a universe of their own making, not one controlled by others. School buses may take them physically from one location to another, but they are grounded in their own spiritual place.

However, existing in one’s own universe and becoming successful in the world of pop culture, especially in the music industry, hardly ever goes hand in hand. Despite having a good sized and enthusiastic fan base in L.A., Fishbone were of course completely boned by their record label that didn’t know how to market them to a larger culture.

Outside uncertainty eventually seeped into several band members’ own mindsets and Fishbone was quickly down the road to ruin, culminating in a completely absurd attempt to deprogram one of them from joining a cult. This bleak incident, which led to an intense lawsuit, is also chronicled through animation that has a distinctly darker, more surreal vibe than the earlier animated sequences.

While there are also allusions to drug use and alcoholism, particularly by Fishbone’s two core members Norwood Fisher and Angelo Moore, Metzler and Anderson rightly avoid zeroing in on that aspect of their lives. Instead, they keep their focus on the band members’ spiritual and emotional journeys, which actually takes them to more dismal places than just the bottom of a beer bottle.

What comes across as somewhat ironic, but mostly unmentioned upon directly, in Everyday Sunshine is just how strangely Fisher and Moore’s outward and inward personalities are in conflict. Moore is described as always smiling while Fisher always comes across as the more serious and grounded of the two.

Yet, if anyone in the film seems to inhabit an “everyday sunshine” mentality, it’s Fisher, who constantly strives to get Fishbone back on top again and to repair relationships with wayward band members, not to get them back into the band primarily, but just to mend broken friendships. Fisher is willing to forgive and forget under all circumstances, while Moore is way more unforgiving and mired in the bleak spaces in his mind despite his inviting, pleasing smile.

Unlike other bands that finally just call it quits or find themselves back exactly where they want to be, Fishbone are still in the midst of their journey. While Everyday Sunshine does wrap up several of the conflicts and turmoil the band has faced over the years, the story of Fishbone does not come to a definitive ending. As the old adage goes, “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey,” and Metzler and Anderson have inspiringly captured a significant and moving part of that journey.

Watch the Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone movie trailer:


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