Review – John Farnham: Finding the Voice

He is regarded as one of Australia’s most iconic, beloved and accoladed rockstars of the 1980s. The ARIA Hall of Fame inductee has one 21 awards from 60 nominations and has entertained fans for decades with phenomenal concert tours and an array of albums. But, when John Farnham released Whispering Jack in 1986, with the ear-worm tune that’s impossible not to sing a long with, You’re The Voice, the former TV pop star rose to meteoric popularity and became the icon and legend he is known for today. But it wasn’t always smooth sailing for Farnham, and there was a lot of people close to him throughout his life that would play key roles in finding his voice.

Finding Your Voice documents the life and career of Farnham using archival footage of the rockstar from the beginning of his career as the young, heartthrob singer of ‘Sadie, the Cleaning Lady’, a lively and cutesy tune that melted hearts all around Australia, all the way through his time as the lead singer of Little River Band, and then the pivotal turning point of his career with the release of ‘You’re The Voice’.

Farnham himself is not interviewed for this documentary, rather his story is told through interviews and snippets of media throughout those years, with recollections from the people who were close to him, including his wife Jill, his sons, and most importantly, his long-time manager and best friend, Glenn Wheatley, who sadly passed away from complications with COVID before Finding Your Voice was finished. A task that was then taken on by Wheatley’s wife, and friend of Farnham, Gaynor.

The insight into Farnham’s life feels incredibly authentic and intimate, but not in an exposing journalistic sense, because Farnham always comes across as authentic and someone who was not afraid to be his true self on the stage. Whether he was performing on stage, or being interviewed, the genuine, kind nature of Farnham is incredibly infectious on screen and so apparently infectious to those he impacted.

As the documentary the highlights the triumphs and pitfalls of his rollercoaster career, it’s impossible to not be completely enamoured by Farnham’s charisma. And despite knowing the success that will eventually come for him, being wrapped up in the uncertainty of what lies ahead for the music icon when life throws its hurdles at him. One of the explored hurdles being the severe depression he faced during his career, something Farnham has stated would keep him in bed for days. But the electric energy of this joyful and positive performer giving his all on stage would never have shown a glimpse of his struggle to unsuspecting audience members during that time, and retrospectively brings up emotions about how tough that time in his life really was and makes for even more fascinating insights into the person behind the legend.

But, for a John Farnham documentary, there also has to be footage of some head-banging and bellowing tunes from his career, and Finding the Voice does not disappoint on that front. Experiencing those moments in a cinema, with a solid speaker set up, really accentuates the power in Farnham’s voice. With the standout moments being a goosebump inducing duet of ‘Amazing Grace’, and mind-blowing performance of ‘You’re the Voice’ in Berlin, which is accompanied by a brilliantly teased lead up of how that song came together, with snippets fading in and out, waiting to explode on to the screen with as much veracity as it would have when Farnham released in back in 1986.

Finding the Voice’s biggest strength though comes in the final 15 minutes of the documentary, where the true impact of his friendships with Glenn Wheatley and Olivia Newton John are felt when the topic of both Wheatley and Newton’s passings are discussed. It’s solidified during the documentary about how much love Farnham had for both, and how integral they were to his career and life as his foundations, but that love is most felt when the emotional news of the deaths hit like a tonne of bricks. Death is awful and sad on the best of days, but in a 90-minute documentary, to truly feel the devastation of their losses in that way, and sympathise with Farnham on his loss, means that the story of their relationships was told in a strong way.

Finding the Voice isn’t just an informative and engaging retelling of John Farnham’s life, it’s also a beautiful dive into the person who as behind the legend, and the impact the people around him made to make that legend on of the most beloved rock stars in Australian history. This documentary is a must for Farnham fans and will serve as a brilliant entry into his work for newcomers alike.

John Farnham: Finding the Voice is in cinemas for limited sessions from May 18.

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Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

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