The dissonance between a Pentecostal upbringing and life in a multiplatinum rock act is entertainingly explored in music docu “Talihina Sky: The Story of Kings of Leon.” Helmed by Stephen C. Mitchell, a longtime friend and associate of the Oklahoma- and Tennessee-born four-piece, pic unabashedly presents an insider’s perspective that catches the band members in unguarded mode; a rich treasure trove of homemovie footage reps another plus point for fans. Docu is getting a first crack at cinemas in the U.K., where the Kings of Leon initially made it big, before it answers its true calling on ancillary.
Brothers Nathan, Caleb and Jared Followill formed Kings of Leon with their cousin Matthew Followill in 2002, an unlikely career choice for boys whose mothers viewed rock ‘n’ roll, and especially its attendant lifestyle, as the work of the devil. Success came gradually but escalated significantly in 2008 with the release of their fourth album, “Only by the Night,” with its big-hit singles “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody.”
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Born between 1979 and 1986 to preacher father Ivan and devout mom BettyAnn, the Followill siblings all grew up in the age of the video camera, and pic includes vital glimpses of their childhood escapes from an otherwise strict upbringing, running wild with an extended family of cousins in the fields, woods and creeks of Talihina, Okla. The boys return to this backwoods retreat for an annual family reunion that fascinates Mitchell, and it’s here that the film discovers its distinctive flavor. Viewers will struggle to puzzle out all the family connections, or to understand much of the vernacular spoken by scene-stealing Uncle Cleo, now deceased; pic is dedicated to him in the end credits.
The ample downtime spent in hotels and on tour buses proves a natural spawning ground for rock excess, but what’s endearing here is the mildness of the boys’ rebellion: mostly premarital sex with girlfriends and crafty puffs on marijuana joints in no-smoking bathrooms, as opposed to cocaine-fueled orgies with hookers. The reckless defiance culminates in Caleb’s decision to vote for Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election, ignoring a plea from his mother to do the right thing by Jesus.
BettyAnn says plenty that her sons might have preferred to see omitted, especially concerning their childhood experiences of being “slain by the spirit” and “receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Mitchell slyly cuts between library footage of wildly shaking Pentecostal believers and the Followills onstage, uninhibited and moved by the spirit of their music.
“Talihina Sky” lacks the major ego-driven dramas that enlivened “Metallica: Some Kind of Monster” (2004) or the tragicomic narrative arc of “Anvil! The Story of Anvil” (2008), so it’s hard to see the film appealing in the way those films did beyond the band’s (admittedly large) fanbase. Behind-the-curtain highlights include drummer and eldest brother Nathan loudly berating singer Caleb for his lackluster contribution and a similar hectoring of guitarist Matthew during the writing of “Use Somebody,” resulting in the riff that helped make it a global smash.