×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Mary J. Blige — The London Sessions’

In spite of its endlessly fascinating subject, this featherweight Mary J. Blige docu struggles to justify its Tribeca showcase.

With:
Mary J. Blige, Sam Smith, Jimmy Napes, Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins, Howard Lawrence, Guy Lawrence, Emeli Sande, Sam Romans, Mitch Winehouse, Steve Barnett.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4504078/

Despite receiving a gala premiere and concert at the Tribeca Film Festival, “Mary J. Blige — The London Sessions” is essentially just a slightly gussied-up version of the types of “making of” featurettes that sometimes accompany deluxe album packages. Barely passing the 45-minute mark and shot in fuzzy black-and-white, the film is a purely promotional glimpse at the creation of Blige’s titular 13th studio album, which was released last fall to strong reviews and disappointing sales. Any time spent with Blige’s epochal voice and infectiously enthusiastic personality could never be unpleasant, but Sam Wrench’s featherweight docu struggles to justify its primetime showcase.

Taking place almost entirely in recording studios or the backseats of cabs, “The London Sessions” follows Blige for her brief stay in London, where she crossed paths with the likes of Sam Smith, Disclosure brothers Howard and Guy Lawrence, Emeli Sande and Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins in an attempt to shake up her sound. The film is most interesting when it simply rolls camera during the sessions — a scene of Blige, Smith and producer Jimmy Napes wordlessly vocalizing along to the track that would become “Nobody But You” provides a rare peephole into the modern pop songwriting process — and least interesting when it tries to gesture toward becoming anything more than a straightforward fly-on-the-wall snapshot. (A scene in which Blige sits down for a heart-to-heart with Amy Winehouse’s father Mitch is awkward, as neither seems to have too much to say to the other.)

R&B divas aren’t generally known for their wallflowerish reserve, but even within that cohort, Blige is notably heart-on-sleeve — her best album, 2005’s “The Breakthrough,” functions just as well as a surrogate therapy session as a dance-floor-filler — and her unabashed emotion occasionally gives this docu some weight. Breaking down in tears while working out a song with writer Sam Romans, Blige quickly apologizes: “I’m sorry, this is the first time I’ve cried … this week … in front of anyone.”

Given this sort of access to such an open-book performer, it’s all the more disappointing that the film never makes the most of the opportunity, or even attempts to contextualize her most recent work relative to her back catalog. (Nor do the songs themselves really get a chance to sing; the only time we see Blige do any full-throated belting for more than half a song comes over the closing credits.) There’s surely a fascinating film to be made about this eternally fascinating woman, who survived a tough childhood, bad relationships and addiction to become the greatest soul singer since Anita Baker, if not Aretha Franklin. But this surely isn’t it.

Film Review: 'Mary J. Blige — The London Sessions'

Reviewed at Creative Artists Agency, Los Angeles, April 13, 2015. (In Tribeca Film Festival — Special Screenings.) Running time: 46 MIN.

Production: (Documentary) A Capitol Records Film presentation in association with Matriarch Entertainment of a Pulse Films production. Produced by Ore Okonedo. Executive producers, Mary J. Blige Isaacs, Kendu Isaacs, Steve Barnett, Zak Razvi.

Crew: Directed by Sam Wrench. Camera (B&W), Wrench; editor, Hamish Lyons; sound, Simon Little.

With: Mary J. Blige, Sam Smith, Jimmy Napes, Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins, Howard Lawrence, Guy Lawrence, Emeli Sande, Sam Romans, Mitch Winehouse, Steve Barnett.

More Film

  • The Woolsy fire burns a home

    Malibu Fire Victims Vow to Rebuild as Real Estate Prices Hold

    Malibu’s reputation as paradise took a beating in 2018. More than 450 homes were destroyed in the city limits during November’s Woolsey Fire, as were 750 or so more residences in the surrounding county. Heaviest hit was the region’s western edge. “Although the fire has shaken the community, people are reenergized and those who lost [...]

  • Ready Player One

    'Ready Player One’ Juxtaposes Real, Virtual Via VFX From Three Shops

    Director Steven Spielberg set an ambitious goal for himself and his “Ready Player One” VFX team: weaving viewers in and out of a virtual world within the storytelling parameters of a traditional film. The movie, released by Warner Bros. in March, is one of five up for a visual effects Oscar this year. To adapt Ernest [...]

  • Ludwig Göransson Talks 'Black Panther,' Childish

    Composer Ludwig Göransson on 'Black Panther' Music, Childish Gambino and Danny Elfman

    Ludwig Göransson is fairly new to the music-for-screens game, but it surprised no one when his score for the billion-dollar “Black Panther” — a deft swirl of blockbuster orchestra, hip-hop and authentic Africana — prompted his first Oscar nomination (and three Grammys on Feb. 10). The Swedish composer spoke to Variety in the midst of [...]

  • Awards Season Red Carpet jewelry

    A Look at Awards Show Jewelry: Bolder and Brighter

    After last year’s Golden Globes “blackout” to support women’s equality and a more muted awards season, brighter fashion and bolder jewelry are back on the scene. From stacks of bracelets to glitzy hair clips all in millions of dollars in diamonds, here’s how this year’s contenders have been upping their jewelry game. Diamond Drop Necklaces [...]

  • Rick Caruso

    How Rick Caruso's Vision and Philanthropy Are Shaping L.A.

    Rick Caruso says he builds for the next 100 years. The Westside Los Angeles-based real estate developer and billionaire is the force behind the Grove, the Americana at Brand, the Commons at Calabasas, Palisades Village and the recently opened Rosewood Miramar Beach resort in Montecito. He is being honored by Variety with the Power of [...]

  • The Wife - Production & Publicity

    Oscar Wilde Awards Continues Tradition of Honoring Creative Visionaries

    The 2019 recipients of the Oscar Wilde Award, now in its 14th year, amply embody the values of sponsoring organization the U.S.-Ireland Alliance, created by Trina Vargo “with a vision,” as she puts it, “of making an old relationship contemporary, and inclusive.” Slated to be feted on Feb. 21 at J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot HQ [...]

  • Rami Malek Marina de Tavira Bradley

    Listen: Conversations With This Year's Spirit and Oscar Nominees

    PLAYBACK is a Variety / iHeartRadio podcast bringing you conversations with the talents behind many of today’s hottest films. New episodes air every Thursday. The film awards season finally comes to an end this weekend with the Film Independent Spirit Awards and the 91st Academy Awards. Here at “Playback” we’ve spoken to a number of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content