The bass line from “Stayin’ Alive,” the one that moved the entire world’s feet, permeates the air. A crowd at the Oakland Coliseum Arena in 1979 buzzes with excitement. Lo and behold, the Bee Gees, undoubtedly one of the most unique yet versatile bands to exist, take the stage. Fully swathed in glamorous ’70s glory, the opening scene to “The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” is magical and entirely palpable. The three brothers that made up the group — Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb — emanate charisma and talent, and director Frank Marshall allows the down-to-earth nature of the trio to blossom onto the big screen.
The film’s dive into the band’s early career is simple and to the point, centering around brotherhood and sheer vocal talent. It’s clear right from the 1960s that the Bee Gees were a powerhouse group. Though inspired by The Beatles, the Bee Gees were able to set themselves apart by perfecting their harmony and singing, also incorporating the natural cohesion they had as a family.
Marshall focuses significantly on what makes the band, and more specifically, each member unique. Robin is first praised for his distinct, “tear-jerking” voice, backed up beautifully by a video of him singing “I Started a Joke,” a dark song that truly reaches the heart. The film is almost like a well-organized essay — each event chronicled is supported by the use of old footage. This builds the story of the Bee Gees as not only entertaining but concrete, especially the footage of fans piled on top of the band’s moving car. The film is also chock full of demos and live recordings and the Bee Gees’ songwriting processes, providing insight into the magic of the studio.
Contrary to popular belief, the Bee Gees’ rise to fame was far from hunky-dory, and the film sophisticatedly dives into each bump in the road. With commentary from Maurice and Robin recorded in 1999 and Barry’s from 2019, each brother paints a picture of the competition they endured and the various splits the band had from their individual perspectives.
The theme of individuality versus familial ties is prevalent throughout the film, jumping from each brother being on the same musical wavelength to Barry and Robin conflicting on who gets to sing more. For a band that’s known for working so well together, “The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” truly unpacks the tribulations the members went through, but still unwaveringly drives home that the glue that held the band together was brotherhood.
The drama that came with the band’s celebrity status is never exaggerated and is offered in a raw, clean-cut way, making the band appear that much more human, and yet simultaneously legendary. Acclaimed musicians ranging from Eric Clapton to Justin Timberlake shared their takes on what set the Bee Gees apart from the similar music around them and how they overcame each hurdle.
The band’s shift to R&B and disco is portrayed exactly how it happened — in a flash. The portrayal of the band’s evolution from ballads to funkier songs targeting the dance floor and heavy radio play is stunning, and the anticipation to the peak everyone knows and loves is incredibly satisfying to see play out.
Where the film truly earns its keep is its incorporation of the music scene the Bee Gees transitioned into, crediting the LGBTQ+ and Black communities with pioneering disco and the inspiration behind the iconic falsetto voice that made the band well known. Marshall also addresses the anti-disco as a racist and homophobic publicity stunt, victimizing Black tradition translated into soul and energy.
“The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” is a warm and captivating testament to the Bee Gees’ timelessness, adaptability and artistry. Just as the Bee Gees are far from a one-note band, Marshall ensures the film reveals the many layers of the band’s journey. And while the film ends on a bittersweet note, you can’t help but feel an intimate connection not only to the band but also to their legacy that has shaped the trajectory of music forever.