I had to let it simmer.
I am not a Michael Jackson fan. I do not consider Jackson a music legend, an icon, the King of Pop or any other over-exaggerated label that was thrust upon him in the days and weeks since his tragic death...and don't get me wrong, indeed, I considered his death tragic as I would consider any death of a 50-year-old single parent tragic.
While I've never been one to 100% buy into the allegations of inappropriate behavior with children similarly thrust upon Jackson, there's no denying I've long considered Michael Jackson as not much more than yet another tragic celebrity. Jackson, in my eyes, was a man whose warped childhood became a warped adulthood and, at least from the outside, it appeared Jackson sped warp-speed into parenthood, as well.
Whether you are in the camp that regarded Jackson as an entertainment superhero or you're in the camp that regarded Jackson as not much more than a freak of nature, Michael Jackson's posthumous documentary "This Is It" serves as a vivid, entertaining and mind-numbingly frustrating reminder of the brilliance, bedazzlement and, simultaneously, the complete and utter wreck that Jackson had become in his later years.
As I left the theatre after having viewed "This Is It," I was astounded at how awesomely entertained I felt. Having long questioned Jackson's values and life choices, I will openly confess to anticipating with evil glee the thorough thrashing I would give "This Is It" upon its release. It would become my Larry the Cable Guy flick set to music.
Then, completely unexpectedly, I found myself completely enraptured by these glimpses, constructed by director Kenny Ortega (the "High School Musical" films), and enchanted by Michael Jackson the entertainer.
Yet, I had to let the film simmer before writing the review.
Something felt amiss.
After a few hours, my enthusiasm for "This Is It" became tempered by the uncomfortable feelings I experienced watching the film...feelings that Michael's memory and talents were being exploited once again by all those individuals and big businesses around him and, perhaps even more comfortably, I couldn't escape the idea that Michael Jackson, love him or hate him, would never have wanted this film to be released.
From a performer's aspect, "This Is It" shows an entertainment genius at work. Who could deny that Jackson could entertain? Even if one disliked his music, and it would be difficult to dislike his entire catalogue, it would be really difficult to deny that Jackson could sing, dance and put on a show like few entertainers. As "This Is It" shows, even at the age of 50 Jackson could still outperform most entertainers half his age AND one gets the sense from this part performance, part rehearsal documentary that Jackson wasn't yet at full-form as his 50-set London shows neared.
True fans of Michael Jackson will find "This Is It" a near orgasmic experience, a humble and surprisingly honest revelation of the man's creative processes, inner workings and devotion to craft. "This Is It" will show Jackson's legion of fans everything they've loved about him over the years, and the film does so without ever feeling like the proceedings have been overly manipulated or manufactured. "This Is It" doesn't FEEL like Jackson had any intentions of these almost homemade videos ever becoming public, and it is this naturalism that makes "This Is It" both awesome and heartbreaking to behold.
As much as "This Is It" shows an artist who, indeed, does still have "it," it also reveals an artist who feels and looks remarkably worn down at times with movements that, despite his greatest efforts, are the movements of a 50-year-old man-child trying desperately to relive his glory days. For all Jackson's well documented perfectionism, "This Is It" is rather stunningly imperfect. Jackson, at times, seemingly mumbles his way through stage rehearsals with language so indecipherable that the film occasionally utilizes sub-titles. Likewise, while it becomes clear his love for creativity, there are times in "This Is It" where his encounters with other human beings feel an awful lot like the socially awkward oddity that many long believed Jackson to be.
Yet, it is important to remember that while "This Is It" is a documentary it is not a true documentary about Michael Jackson himself. "This Is It" is intended primarily as a way for audiences to experience the creative process that was leading up to his London concerts, and the vast majority of "This Is It" is devoted to exploring preparations for these concerts through Jackson's eyes, the eyes of those around him and, of course, the eyes of Kenny Ortega, who was also working with Jackson on the London shows.
Revelatory and frustrating, surprisingly revealing yet not truly that revealing, immensely entertaining and, still, overwhelmingly sad...these are all feelings and experiences that arise during Michael Jackson's "This Is It." In the end, it's hard not to get the feeling that Jackson's London shows wouldn't so much have been a "come back" or a redemptive experience for Jackson but, perhaps, a cleansing of the long trouble artist's creative soul.
Instead, we are left with grainy glimpses of unfinished brilliance.
Indeed, this is it.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic