Reuben Cox seems like an ordinary guy – and he is. He lives in a humble home in California and works as hard as anyone else. For musicians and guitarists – from Jackson Browne to Aaron Dessner – he’s a legend. Cox is neither a musician nor a guitarist, but he has a passion for repairing and reusing guitars. His journey from a simple photographer to a world-renowned luthier is interesting, and it’s the subject of Alice Gu’s documentary, Really Good Rejects.
It’s not hard to love Reuben Cox. Alice Gu introduces us to a person who has the gift of creating and distributing a must-have instrument for anyone on the music scene. It also introduces us to notable artists who depend on Cox to take care of their prized instruments, and viewers will appreciate their relationship with someone like Cox.
Unfortunately, despite the passion and inspiration of those interviewed, Gu’s documentary misses the mark.
Really Good Rejects focuses on the life, education and profession of Reuben Cox. Using his knowledge of cabinetmaking and photography, he became a successful luthier, making guitars for amateur and professional musicians. He’s an individual who uses his passion to pay the bills – and he’s beloved by notable artists because of it.
Anyone who loves guitars or music will sometimes get lost in the background score. The film has a wonderful musical composition made up mostly of musicians that Cox has personally worked with. There are plenty of guitar riffs throughout the movie, some of which are nice and some of which are gritty. Fortunately, the music isn’t too loud or distracting, and viewers might find a new artist or two to add to their playlists.
Really Good Rejects also makes an interesting choice by incorporating animated elements into the final cut. A guitarist will play his instrument here or there, and animated symbols will come out of his fingers. At other times, the film gives us fully animated segments to visually depict the musical process.
Unfortunately, Gu loses track of what she’s trying to accomplish halfway through the film.
Really Good Rejects opens with various musicians giving their thoughts on Reuben Cox. It is a pleasant introduction and stimulates our curiosity for this man. Cox is shown to be likeable and relatable for the first 30 minutes of the film.
However, as Cox and other musicians detail their love of music, the film strays from the common thread and goes in several strange directions. One musical artist after another describes how music has inspired them and continues to do so. Coupled with more segments of the musical process, interspersed with random clips of Cox at work, we’re left with a somewhat disjointed presentation with no clear message.
The insight we get is certainly fascinating, but Gu’s film never really gets back to the common thread of who Reuben Cox is and how his craft has helped so many in their music careers. Unfortunately, what begins as a film about a humble individual following his passion pushes him aside to talk about other topics, and the film loses its potency because of that.
Fortunately, Really Good Rejects isn’t a terrible documentary. Music lovers will appreciate the interviews and how the musicians find their passion. Newcomers, however, will get lost in what Gu is trying to convey. Gu’s attempt to show how music unites us is respectable, but it just doesn’t deliver what is intended.
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Really Good Rejects attempts to tell the story of Reuben Cox, a typical individual who interacts with and advances the careers of iconic guitarists. We understand how the music inspires him and others, but the film loses its meaning by including too many subjects at once.