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JT + The Tennessee Kids | 2016 Toronto Int. Film Festival Review

Demme & Timberlake Don Suit & Tie In Masterful 20/20 Experience Concert Doc

Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee KidsIt’s been 32 years since Jonathan Demme immortalized David Byrne and the Talking Heads in their iconic concert film Stop Making Sense. Cinephiles (including Justin Timberlake) recall: the giant suit, those gloriously uninhibited dance moves, and the shimmy with the lamp amidst the pitch black euphoria of live performance. That’s quite possibly why he tapped Demme to document the final performance of his high octane 134 date 20/20 Experience World Tour in Las Vegas at the massive MGM Grand. And why not? 20/20 was the hottest show on the planet at the time, it had been nearly a decade since Demme lensed his last concert doc in Neil Young: Heart of Gold, and there are few working filmmakers that ride the line of mainstream pop culture and personal narrative storytelling as well as this seasoned veteran helmer. The result is the produced-for-IMAX Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids, yet another high water mark in a pair of careers swimming in gold foil and strawberry bubblegum.

Beginning backstage amongst dancers, band members and JT himself as they gear up for the final show together after being on the road for more than a year, we’re privy to the pre-game prayers, a set of vérité crew introductions and a nervous energy that lends itself well to the narrative tension that Demme seems to so seamlessly integrate solely via aural and visual means. Dressed in signature suit and tie, designed by none other than Haute couture icon and filmmaker Tom Ford, Timberlake is seen below the stage, waiting in anticipation to be lifted through a trap door to a tsunami of applause set against an ultra modern wall of white honeycomb tiling. As soon as he and his air-tight band launch into the electro groove of ‘Pusher Love Girl,’ we’re locked in and ready for a perfectly choreographed 90 minute sonic sugar rush.

The extensive 30 song, dual set show was stealthly condensed down to extract low impact covers like Elvis Presley’s ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ in order to showcase the sheer scope of talent on display with full troupe dance numbers like ‘Like I Love You’ and a perfectly integrated Bell Biv DeVoe cover, weepy piano ballads like ‘Until The End Of Time’ with JT himself behind the keys, or wielding an ax for rousing acoustic jams like ‘Drink You Away.’ And much like he did in Stop Making Sense, with each new song Demme, with alluring help from cinematographer Declan Quinn, apply a new formal approach that perfectly compliments the musical tone and happenings on stage, almost always keeping in close to catch facial expressions and the intimacy between bandmates. Most thankfully we’re privy to all those magical moments that even people in the front row probably couldn’t see.

With Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids, Demme adds yet another supreme concert film to his catalog, which rivals maybe only that of the great D.A. Pennebaker whose 60s & 70s musical work and his ability to draw out the raw emotion of live performance has been immeasurably influential. That said, some might argue the validity of including JT among not only the Talking Heads and Neil Young, but also Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding and David Bowie. But who could argue against a new generation’s set of near perfect pop songs immortalized in proximity to flawless form. One moment of crystallization: As Justin sends his massive world tour off with an emotionally overwhelming, goosebump inducing sing-a-long of ‘Mirrors’ during which the camera swings to the back of the stage to finally reveal the true immensity of the ecstatic audience, it’s hard not to feel like this is one is bound for the record books.


Reviewed on September 25th at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival – Gala Presentations. 90 Minutes

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