American Symphony (2023)

American Symphony (2023)

PG-13

netflix

Jon Batiste creates his titular symphony in this moving love story and documentary

The Very Best

8.5

Movie

United States of America
English
Documentary
2023
MATTHEW HEINEMAN
Jon Batiste, Suleika Jaouad
104 min

TLDR

There’s just something so pure and honest and uplifting about this film.

What it's about

After eleven Grammy nominations, Jon Batiste sets out to create his magnum opus, but trouble strikes when his wife, the best-selling author Suleika Jaouad, learns that her leukemia has returned.

The take

Art is a hobby for most people, but for musician Jon Batiste and writer Suleika Jaouad, art is part and parcel of this thing called life. Of course, it’s part of their work, and it’s how they make a livelihood, but it’s more than that– it’s almost a spiritual ritual they cling to, especially when Jaouad finds out that her leukemia has returned. American Symphony mainly depicts the creation of said orchestral work, but director Matthew Heineman translates the symphony into cinematic form, culminating in a performance played over the intimate moments between Batiste and Jaouad. It’s not just a documentary of a performance, but a documentary about art, about creation despite life’s pains, perhaps to survive life’s pains. It’s a powerful work that makes it easy to believe in art as imperative for life, and vice versa.

What stands out

Director Matthew Heineman is best known for his documentaries, oftentimes focusing on large-scale American history and current events like the healthcare crisis, border conflicts, and war. American Symphony seems like a departure from Heineman’s usual interests. Instead of political turmoil, the film deals with cancer. Instead of systems, the film is centered on an artist. But even as a totally intimate documentary, fully centered on Batiste’s and Jaouad’s voices, Heineman is able to create a sense that their personal story is much bigger than the initial premise. The film speeds through their backgrounds in photos as the couple narrates, and musical performances speed through fast intercuts alongside their phone calls, but the film slows down as they create, in the casual, immediate intimacies they share, and in that absolutely moving track Batiste dedicates to Jaouad in one of his concerts. It helps create the sense that their personal struggles aren’t just personal, that their creations don’t stem in a vacuum– It’s really fitting for a collaborative and phenomenal musician like Batiste.

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