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It’s not like we don’t know much already about the talented singer and actor, Justin Timberlake. He’s made a career out of being a highly personable and approachable player in the big game of world-wide entertainment. With his roots reaching back as a child star for Disney to his membership and breakout success as a lead singer in the boy band NSYNC, it has always been his charm and seemingly effortless ability to invite us into his world that has kept him so engaging. His numerous appearances on late night talks shows, Saturday Night Live, films and more have made him a ubiquitous face on all our screens and yet, beyond reason, always a welcome one. With Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids, he once again proves himself a master of all he surveys, an entertainer that understands all too well the value of sincerity and giving his audience one heck of a performance.
The film begins backstage with a brief introduction of the Tennessee Kids, a large collection of musicians, singers, and dancers that have been supporting Timberlake for the entirety of the tour. As we meet them, Timberlake is always nearby, passing through them, a presence that can’t be ignored, but incredibly humble and respectful of the talent soon to share the stage with him. They too have great admiration for the singer, and it’s clear these are people who have worked to create a show not just of sound and symmetry, but love.
Directed by Jonathan Demme, who is no stranger to the musical documentary, having practically re-invented the genre with 1984’s Stop Making Sense, he delivers Timberlake in high fashion, giving the show not just great coverage, but personality. Timberlake and the Tennessee Kids are all dressed in the finest suits and ties, like a hyper-stylized big band show, and the stage, soaked in subdued musky blues and sumptuous purples makes it warm and of course, sexy, a theme that pops up often with just the right amount of class.
Obviously, I’m a fan of the star, and while that’s sometimes not easy to admit, I’ve always found him to be a great “celebrity personality.” I can’t say I listen to all of his music (I do have his latest in heavy rotation), but there is a lot I do like, and there’s hasn’t been a television or film performance I haven’t liked. He’s always left me thinking that he gets it, and isn’t afraid to take the image he’s created and have fun with it.
That is what makes this documentary work so well, too, Timberlake’s authenticity in his performance and Demme’s brilliant presentation of that, showcasing the dynamic peaks and valleys that give the show its power. From stirring renditions of “Rock Your Body” and “Mirrors” to old hip-hop classics such as Bell Biv Davoe‘s Poison, to some intimate moments that slow things down, the film is never without a pulsing sense of forward motion, a mix of light and shadow, sharp close ups and pull backs that give the production such vitality. A moment where he and a few dancers literally slide on a narrow stage from the front to the back of the MGM Grand arena is breathtaking. The mix of big band horns and pop synth with Timberlake’s silky smooth voice make for a great show. Though there are a few hits that don’t make the film, at 90 minutes, it feels just right.
Fan or not of the singer, Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids is a great piece of filmmaking, a wildly entertaining experience that is all music and style. Demme gives every member of the huge band their due (and audience for that matter), and yet never feels intrusive. Much like Timberlake himself, we feel invited into the show and thus, I recommend you grab some friends, put it on the big screen TV, turn up the volume, and let it run its magic.
Director: Jonathan Demme
Star: Justin Timberlake
Genre: Music, Documentary