Movie Review: "20 Feet From Stardom"
Rating: PG-13 (strong language, sexual material)
Length: 90 min
Release date: June 14, 2013
Directed by: Morgan Neville
Stars: 3 out of 5
"20 Feet From Stardom" takes a look into the hidden world of backup singers. Everyone recognizes the bands and singers who make it big, but often the men and women who stand behind them on stage go unnoticed. This film follows Darlene Love, Lisa Fischer, Tata Vega, and Merry Clayton, four remarkably talented backup singers, on their quests for stardom and love.
Morgan Neville directs while Gil Friesen produces, and both men have their fair share of experience in the entertainment industry. Numerous music industry elites round out the film, giving their perspectives on why the film's talented backup singers were so close to stardom and yet never quite made it. Sting, Bette Midler, and Mick Jagger are just a few of the music icons who make appearances as themselves.
While "20 Feet From Stardom" is a documentary, fans of music will find that the film defies genre and speaks directly to the human experience of these women. The film impressively competes with the action-packed blockbusters and thrillers filling theatres using simple but effective camerawork, great storytelling, and a raw look at the real lives of talented but star-crossed singers.
One of the most compelling aspects of the film is the look at the racism that permeated the music industry not long ago. In fact, many of the same issues faced by the film's leading ladies still exist today for many singers and other entertainers. "20 Feet From Stardom" examines the various reasons why it was so difficult for these women to achieve the success they dreamed of, highlighting the often unspoken racism and sexism behind the scenes of the music industry. While each woman had an abundance of vocal talent, that talent was not necessarily a recipe for success when it came to upfront stardom.
As much as "20 Feet From Stardom" is a critical look at the music industry, it is also a tale of triumph. Singers like Darlene Love and Merry Clayton truly helped to make music what it is today, and they are celebrated in the film for their roles, even if they aren't celebrated as lead singers with prominent solo careers. The film delves deeply into the passion that backup singers have for music and how deeply many of them are affected by the music they perform. A world without backup singers would be a world without all the rich layering and atmosphere that makes music so enjoyable, and "20 Feet From Stardom" does a great job of showing that important quality.
Another compelling aspect of the film is the personal conflict that each singer must face between their family lives and their careers. This aspect is particularly relatable to audience members who have ever had to choose between two great loves. Morgan Neville truly understands this conflict, and the storytelling of the film reflects the nuanced considerations that each of these women dealt with on a daily basis.
It should come as no surprise that "20 Feet From Stardom," centering around the music industry, is full of great songs. The difference between this and other films about the music industry is the different perspective on popular songs. Audiences may be familiar with the classic songs played by artists and bands such as Sting, Bette Midler, The Rolling Stones, and Stevie Wonder, but music fans have never heard their favorite songs like this. "20 Feet From Stardom" shows performances through the eyes of the backup singers, adding a whole new layer of complexity and understanding to the music, making the film a must-see for any music lover, young or old.
As with many popular documentary films, "20 Feet From Stardom" is filmed in a unique way that truly highlights the subject matter. Swift cuts and plenty of interviews interspersed throughout the various narratives of the film's leading ladies make for a fast-paced and easy-to-follow film. Unlike other documentaries about rock and roll, "20 Feet From Stardom" shines the spotlight on the very people who are paid to stay out of it. These backup singers may have disappeared into the tapestry of bright stage lights, loud music, and charismatic lead singers on stage, but this film is all about them.
"20 Feet From Stardom" is an excellent film full of classic music, compelling storylines, true stories, and social commentary. The film delves into the deep racial and gender-based tensions that held so many talented women back from the stardom they worked for so intently. This is a must-see film for anyone who has ever wondered about the women who make music just out of the spotlight's reach.