Don’t Look Back it isn’t, but Songwriter — a documentary about Ed Sheeran co-produced by Apple Music and featuring a boatload of Apple products — is an interesting window into the creation of a modern pop behemoth all the same. Directed by Sheeran’s cousin and best pal Murray Cummings, who has been shooting footage of the red-headed singer since he first picked up a guitar, Songwriter is a closely guarded affair. There’s zip in here about the young Briton’s private life, apart from the fact that he wrote a song about his mum.
We’re witness to the recording of his latest album, ÷ (a/k/a Divide), which Team Sheeran does at a luxurious California ranch, an English countryside studio, and aboard the Queen Mary 2. That last location is thanks to his diamond-touch producer Benny Blanco (né Levin) and his unwillingness to fly. Blanco’s sanguine demeanor livens up the workmanlike proceedings considerably. His claims that Sheeran’s mild vocal tracks are “fire” may seem dubious at first, but with enough poking at computers, they evolve into the agreeable songs you hear at the drugstore.
A sequence with orchestral musicians at Abbey Road is a highlight, especially with Sheeran in a ratty sweatshirt and cargo shorts. Songwriter sells the “nice boy” bit well, but if you aren’t already a fan, it eventually becomes tiresome. There are occasional glimmers of a real person (wishing to topple Adele, laying down a “no Snapchat” rule at his house, etc.) but rarely is a feature film so bluntly just marketing.
Directed by Murray Cummings
Opens August 17, IFC Center
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This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 15, 2018