Miss Sharon Jones! documentary review: get up, get on back up

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Miss Sharon Jones green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

Cheer-worthy portrait of a singer for whom overcoming adversity has been a mainstay, and a testament to the power of music and family to keep a gal going.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): I’m desperate for movies about women
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

You may never have heard of Sharon Jones or her band, the Dap Kings. They are not stars; they are the very embodiment of working musicians: they don’t have hit songs — their brand of funk-soul, reviving the sounds of the 1960s and 70s, may be too niche for that — but they tour like crazy, and audiences adore them. And just at the moment when, in late 2013, their music was starting to get a taste of mainstream success and a little bit of media recognition, disaster strikes: Jones is diagnosed with stage-two pancreatic cancer, and her exhausting treatment — surgery and chemo — sidelines her and the band for months.

Jones is down but far from out, as legendary documentary filmmaker Barbara Kopple* shows us in this intimate and ultimately cheer-worthy portrait of a singer for whom overcoming adversity has been a mainstay of her life and career. She laughs about being told, early on, that she was “too dark, too short, and too fat” to be a music star, but the fatigue of her illness proves a challenge to the exuberant stage presence, if not so much the powerhouse voice, that has led some fans to call her a female James Brown. With so much on hold while Jones recuperates — including the release of their album Give the People What They Want [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.] [iTunes U.S.] [iTunes Canada] [iTunes U.K.], which would later go on to earn them their first Grammy nomination — we witness her band’s crisis of matters practical: the Dap Kings is a small business, they all earn their livings from touring (not record sales), and being out of work is tough. And so this becomes an expose, too, of the lack of a social safety net for creative people (their health insurance is being tried by the expenses of Jones’s cancer treatment).

But the band is a family first, the only one Jones has, and so above all, this rousing film is a testament to the power not only of music but of love to keep a gal goingtweet when she hits rockbottom.

*Kopple is included in my recent survey of pioneering women documentarians for PBS.

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Fri, Jul 29, 2016 9:45pm

OMG!!! OMG!!!

Yeah! their shows are fantastic. I have every album. In CD. In case my hard drive gets taken hostage or gets torched.

And, yeah, hard working musicians. I’ll be seeing this.

reply to  LaSargenta
Fri, Jul 29, 2016 11:35pm

In case anyone hasn’t heard this:


It makes me feel patriotic.

It was also in Up in the Air, FWIW.