Director Jonathan Demme is best-known for narrative dramas, such as “The Silence of the Lambs” and “Philadelphia”. But he’s also made a fair share of music-related movies over the years, from his breakthrough 1984 concert film on the band The Talking Heads, “Stop Making Sense”, to a documentary on Kenny Chesney, three on Neil Young, and last year’s fictional dramedy centered on a rock star (played by Meryl Streep), “Ricki and the Flash”.
Now, Demme teams-up with superstar Justin Timberlake for the straight-to-Netflix, “Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids”. Unlike the recent concert docs of Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, The Jonas Brothers and the late Michael Jackson, this is a pure concert film. 95% of the footage is of the final two concerts of Timberlake’s “20/20 Experience World Tour” which took place at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on January 1 & 2, 2015. Demme devotes the first 10-minutes and final five minutes to backstage and behind-the-scenes footage – that’s it.
Timberlake himself is not interviewed, so we learn nothing about him – background, thoughts on the tour, etc. We get the names, hometowns and musical specialties of his band members and dancers – info which adds very little to the film. Because of this “JT + The Tennessee Kids” is difficult to classify as a legitimate documentary. Instead, this is a concert film – and a highly entertaining one.
I didn’t get to see Timberlake perform live during what was a nearly two-year tour. The best compliment I can give this film is that it made me regret that I hadn’t. Demme’s multiple cameras capture every element of the spectacular show. “JT + The Tennessee Kids” is also a master-class in producing, directing and editing a live entertainment event. Demme provides an immersive, 360-degree view of one of the greatest showmen of our time at the top of his game.
Dressed in a “Suit & Tie”, Timberlake enters the arena fully prepared to give the audience an unforgettable performance. We see his charisma, passion and energy, as the sweat starts falling by the start of the third song. Going into this film, I wasn’t familiar with JT’s music outside of the mega hits. Much of the first half of the concert features Timberlake and the Tennessee Kids performing some of those lesser-known tracks, though we hear the diehards in the crowd singing along with every word.
Each song is its own dramatic chapter, and they’re all elevated by Demme’s direction. A highlight section features a clear plexiglass deck, which holds Timberlake and his back-up singer as it floats over the audience from one end of the MGM Grand to the other.
Fans of JT who attended this show in person will absolutely want to revive the magic. I guarantee you’ll see things, through Demme’s lenses, that you missed live, even if you had a front row seat. Footage was edited down from the two shows to fit the tight, 90-minute runtime, but Demme kept-in all of Timberlake’s fan favorites, including “SexyBack” and “Mirrors”. Not a big fan of JT? This film is still worth watching – for the technical craft on display. And it will be tough for anyone NOT to become a fan of Timberlake’s after seeing this exceptional talent in action.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids” gets a B+.
Running Time: 91 min.