(director/writer: Matthew Heineman; cinematographer: Thorsten Thielow; editors: Sammy Dane, Matthew Heineman, Fernando Villegas; music: Jon Batiste; cast: Jon Batiste, Suleika Jaouad, Lindsey Byrnes; Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Matthew Heineman, Lauren Domino, Joedan Okun; Netflix; 2023)
“Pleasing documentary–a well-conceived biopic on the multi-talented musician Jon Batiste.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Matthew Heineman (“The First Wave”/”Retrogade”) directs this pleasing documentary–a well-conceived biopic on the multi-talented musician Jon Batiste, an energetic pop star always giving off good vibes. It tells of the great love between him and his best-selling writer wife Suleika Jaouad, and on the couple’s organic involvement in the arts. It shows the healing power derived from creativity and love, as the always upbeat Jon offers unwavering support for his wife while she rehabs from bone marrow treatment after a relapse from her dormant leukemia (where she’s treated at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center). He does so even while he works diligently on his first orchestral work, his groundbreaking magnum opus called the American Symphony.
We get to follow him around at work and in his private life in 2022, and learn that the eclectic New Orleans born musician trained at Juilliard (as did his wife) and wants to expand the range of classical music to be more modern and bring more people of color into following symphonies.
The film is built around Jon creating his funky American Symphony to be played only for one time at Carnegie Hall, a symphony that blends together Dixieland jazz, Indian drums and operatic vocals. At the same time he’s attentive to his ill wife.
In 2022, Jon receives an historical high 11 Grammy nominations for his winning album We Are and an Oscar for his music for the animated feature Soul.
The emotionally moving heartfelt tribute pic about two positive, cuddly and creative people makes for a benign but not necessarily a deep watch. Its slick editing takes us only so far in telling the story and not far enough.
REVIEWED ON 1/21/2024 GRADE: B