Let the Canary Sing Is Fun and Odd [Tribeca Review]

Let the Canary Sing still of Cyndi Lauper on stage.

It can’t not be quirky if it’s a story about Cyndi Lauper. Let the Canary Sing premiered at the Tribeca Festival and charts Cyndi Lauper’s early life and career. The documentary has Cyndi Lauper front and center, giving her experiences. It also includes interviews with her siblings, friends, coworkers, and other artists. Watching, I realize I know little about Cyndi Lauper beyond her most iconic songs. Honest about the struggles at home and with stardom, as well as showcasing an artist that now, even decades later, feels like she doesn’t get her due, Let the Canary Sing is an eye-opening look at the powerhouse singer if a bit shallow.

Allison Ellwood directs the documentary. It opens with Cyndi Lauper talking to the camera in the back of a moving car. It’s clear she’s talking to the person in the car with her. That’s what makes her so compelling. Whether through her songs, music videos, or this documentary, it is like a one-on-one conversation with her when Cyndi talks. Less drama-filled or glossing over some, Let the Canary Sing charts how Cyndi Lauper became the groundbreaking, staunch resister of labels she is today.

Let the Canary Sing Is as Much About Community as Cyndi

Even as Cyndi grew up, her community was a party of one in her sister, Ellen Lauper. They both resided in a convent boarding school. This continues in Cyndi’s life as she searches for a place to belong with people who believe in her vision for her artistry. Her love of community and marching to her own beat speaks to larger communities often ignored or left on the fringes, specifically LGBTQIA. “True Colors” was for her gay friend who died during the AIDS pandemic. Even later in life, Cyndi Lauper still speaks up for women’s rights and LGBTQIA youth, who experience larger percentages of homelessness. Let the Canary Sing shows the beauty Cyndi Lauper has for people.

While Iconic, There’s Something Else

Let the Canary Sing still of Cyndi Lauper on stage.
Let the Canary Sing still of Cyndi Lauper. Courtesy of Tribeca Festival.

I’m a fan of Cyndi Lauper’s music, and she’s done some amazing things with her fame. However, one of those is also typical white women overstepping. It goes unaddressed in a documentary meant to uplift. So less well-rounded as there are few mistakes Cyndi, the person, makes. White women deciding that because they support other communities, they are suddenly the arbiters of what is or is not racist reared its head when Cyndi defended Sharon Osbourne’s racist remarks.

Not only did she say Sharon wasn’t racist, but that Sharon “misspoke.” To speak outside your lane and even say Sharon’s a good friend epitomizes the problem with white women—befriending people who harm other communities. Their allyship only goes so far and never spills into their personal life. So while Let the Canary Sing is a wonderful documentary, it’s showing the best of Cyndi.

If You Just Wanna Have Fun, This Doc Is It

Overall, a documentary can merely highlight the best of a person. It’s entertaining. When I see lists of notable singers, few mention Cyndi Lauper, so Let the Canary Sing highlights her powerful vocal range and journey through the industry. I do, however, wish they explored more about the mistakes. It’s part of the journey in life. We all mess up, and owning that to grow and be better tomorrow is vital. But if a feel-good doc akin to a Disney special is what you’re looking for, Let the Canary Sing delivers with pizazz, showcasing the quirky, transitory style of Cyndi Lauper.

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