This Is It (2009)
Directed by Kenny Ortega
About halfway through the movie I started to feel it, a gentle tug that had become more insistent until I slowly became lost in a sea of memories and quiet sadness. For people of a certain age, Michael Jackson is synonymous with adolescence. For us, he was more than a pop star. He was the closest thing we had to a global celebrity, a living Truman before the internet revolution decreed that every celebrity's life would be lived (literally)under continual scrutiny. From the stories of his childhood abuse (his dad used to sit with a belt across his lap when the Jackson Five rehearsed, and if they made a mistake, he would whip them) to his culture changing stardom with Thriller, and from his move from icon to iconoclast to creepy Wacko, Michael Jackson was always a presence in our life.
That is, until the past decade. Somehow, we needed the absence. Needed the separation. But with the distance something happened. Somehow his decade long absence served to bury Jackson the pop star and raise him to something else altogether. This Is It was to be his comeback, and perhaps, final tour. And what a tour it might have been.
The movie is compiled footage from his concert preparation, and cut in a manner to be a concert, in effect, for the viewer. It's well done, although more interviews would've helped the narrative along. Despite that, Jackson's star power is never in question. With his translucent white skin and sunglasses balanced over a porcelain face of sharp mounds, he seems more a ghost than a fifty year old man. His voice is still crisp, and his conditioning is tremendous, as he dances and sings with every song. (Unlike, say, Brittney Spears or any number of current pop stars) His creative vision is astounding, and even from the half finished clips we see in the film, we know that This Is It would surely have been one of the greatest (and most expensive) shows of all time.
Mostly though, it isn't Michael the performer that holds you. It is the force of the memories dancing along inside you when he sings Thriller and Man in the Mirror, the soft, childish platitudes he mutters to his crew that strangely fill you with hope, and the love his dancers and fellow musicians genuinely hold for him.
It's easy to be cynical about Michael Jackson, easy to call him Wacko Jacko or a creep, but for four decades he lived in front of us, startling us and disappointing us, and yet, always creating those moments. Moments we recall twenty years later that remind us who we were back then, and in so doing, help us see what we have become.
More than his musical and creative genius, his dominance of pop culture was the result of his ability to help us look in the mirror and to do so not with cynicism, but hope. Michael Jackson was not a saint, nor was he just another celebrity sinner. He was, in a strange way, the perfect reflection of our ideals and failures, an adult of great charity and a child who never grew up. And in that, he was just like us.
***** (Out of five) For the memories
***1/2(Out of five) For the film