We’ve all seen Michael Jackson the superstar, MJ the sideshow, MJ the accused felon, MJ the child prodigy, MJ the medical experiment gone wrong and Jacko.
Who knew that it would take until his early demise for the world to see Jackson’s human side?
“This Is It,” which chronicles the final rehearsals before what was to be Jackson’s farewell concert stint in London this past summer, shows us Michael the person. He had a sense of humor, was a bit of perfectionist when it came to his work and had a better understanding of music than he was probably ever given credit for.
Sure, the film gives fans what they want: extended cuts of hits like “Thriller,” “Smooth Criminal” and “Beat It.” But you also get Michael chewing out a bass player for lackadaisical musicianship, encouraging his guitar player to completely put herself out there on stage and getting chided by Kenny Ortega (who co-produced the concert and made this film) for playing it safe with his voice.
We’ve become so saturated with imitations and satirical takes on Jackson that it’s been easy to forget what the real Michael Jackson was about. Yes, he had a high voice, and (as my wife pointed out) his frequent nose jobs caused his glasses to slide down every time he spun. But he was genuine, empathetic and … well … sweet. Whether the world would have thought that way if he didn’t die in late June due to a medication overdose will never be known, unfortunately.
Jackson had more troubles than most third-world countries during his final few years on Earth, but this film indicates that London audiences would have been in for one whopper of a farewell show. He still had his vocal chops, his trend-setting dance moves (which his background dancers simultaneously showered with praise and struggled to master during cutaway segments of them rehearsing) and his command of an audience (nearly every song was interrupted by his suggestion for a pause, extended keyboard run or other bit of flair).
The audience at the preview show I attended was wowed by all of this, with multiple exclamations made throughout the film and a rowdy round of applause offered up at its conclusion. He’s not around to see it, and it’s not in the venue he imagined, but that’s still precisely what Jackson would have wanted. Kudos to Ortega and the film’s other creators for giving him a fitting farewell. GRADE: A-