Synopsis: Backup singers live in a world that lies just beyond the spotlight. Their voices bring harmony to the biggest bands in popular music, but we’ve had no idea who these singers are or what lives they lead, until now.
Stars: Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Judith Hill, Tata Vega, Stevie Wonder, Mick Jagger, Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Bette Midler, Chris Botti
Director: Mogan Neville
Running Length: 91 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (8.5/10)
Review: The most I can ever ask from a film is that it moves me. Now sometimes a movie will move me to the nearest exit and pronto when the lights come up but then there are the movies that you don’t want to end so you stay firmly planted in your seat until the final credits roll, the lights come up, and the usher kindly asks you to leave so he pick up all the junk left on the floor (note…take your garbage with you!!!). 20 Feet from Stardom is a film that captures your attention and doesn’t let go for a joyous 91 minutes.
In 2002 there was a documentary called Standing in the Shadows of Motown and it told the story of the legendary Funk Brothers, musicians that backed up countless numbers of Motown artists. 20 Feet from Stardom finds itself with a similar theme but instead looks at those using a totally different kind of instrument…their voice. Backup singers don’t always get their due but filmmaker Morgan Neville shines a light on them and produces a truly magical experience that gave me all sorts of goosebumps.
Neville has an abundance of riches when it comes to famous faces that go on camera to endorse the various background vocalists they have worked with over the years but he uses people like Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger, and Sting sparingly in favor of giving more time to a handful of powerhouse talents.
Though Darlene Love may be the most known out of the group thanks to her yearly holiday appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman and playing Danny Glover’s wife in the Lethal Weapon films, there’s a nice balance between her story of coming up through the ranks and other, lesser known, names. You may not be familiar with Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, or Tata Vega but after hearing some of the famous songs they sang back-up on you’ll always have a face to put with a spine-tingling vocal.
While the archival footage is fun, it was the present day material shot for the film that leaves a lasting impression. Showing that time hasn’t changed the power in their timbre, Neville lets the ladies tell their own stories…the triumphs and set-backs, the struggles and the successes.
It’s an audience-pleasing, good for you kind of movie-going experience that I would hope everyone gets a chance to take in. In a summer where the action movies are loud and the acting sometimes louder, it was so refreshing to see a film with a big heart to match some powerful soul.