Sunday, 29 March 2015

Movie Review: Backstreet Boys: Show 'Em What You're Made Of (2015)

Given the rather ill-fated step that this entire blog started on, boy bands now have an added bizarre undercurrent on top of my already rather vocal disdain for them: I may hate them in general, but they are at least partially responsible for me taking my obsessive cinematic habits and turning them into something mildly useful. So, when news reached me that a documentary was coming out based on one of the biggest boy bands of all time, the Backstreet Boys, I felt some weird form of obligation to check it out beyond my compulsions. But, with my mother in tow to provide cultural context when needed as she grew up around the phenomenon, was it worth seeing? Like, at all? This is Backstreet Boys: Show ‘Em What You’re Made Of.

The plot: In celebration of their 20th anniversary as a group, the Backstreet Boys (A.J. McLean, Howie Dorough, Nick Carter, Kevin Richardson, Brian Littrell) reunite to record a new album. As they work together on what would eventually become their 2013 album In A World Like This, they reminisce on their career together, from their humble beginnings to their chart-topping success to the present day.

With so many biopics coming out of late, I have noticed a definite trend amongst them: The better ones tend to focus on a single event or theme and put all of its effort into that, rather than trying to overstretch themselves and look at everything concerning the subject. For example, Selma wouldn’t have worked nearly as well if it tried to squeeze MLK’s entire life story into a single film, rather than taking the route it did and single out the protest marches to Montgomery. I bring this up because, as you might have guessed by now, this film tries to look at everything involving the Backstreet Boys and their history. Now, admittedly it does end up covering an awful lot of information, but as a result it doesn’t put near enough emphasis on any of it for it to really mean anything. Their manager cheating them and countless other people out of their money; their problems with substances and visits to rehab; them revisiting places from their childhood and delving into some emotional moments; all of these, along with everything else mentioned on screen, are done with such disregard for what’s being shown, that the audience really isn’t given much of a reason to care about it. It treats its material largely like a big check list of all the things they wanted to bring up, never once thinking to focus on any one thing for long enough to give it the attention it needed. This also results in it feeling extremely bloated, making this nearly two hour film even more of a slog to get through.

Of course, what they do end up focusing on isn’t all that great either. One of my biggest gripes I had with One Direction: This Is Us is that, for as much as it desperately tried to convince me that the band wasn’t just one big manufactured cash cow, it never managed it. Well, surprise surprise, the same happens here. Throughout the film, the Boys keep trying to say that while they started out as a mass-marketed boy band, they have since become a legitimate vocal group as if they were the second coming of The Monkees or something. At one point, one of them even compares the band to Pinocchio and how he was manufactured at first and then became a real boy. This is the kind of material that shows up in parodies of band documentaries, not the actual product. What makes this ring especially hollow is the fact that, quite frankly, we can hear how they sound now; they still suck like they did back then. Hell, maybe if they wanted to take this idea more seriously then they wouldn’t have brought in pop music titan Max Martin, who made most of their biggest hits back in the day, to help produce their new album. With that said, there are all of two moments where we get some form of legitimacy: One comes from when Nick confronts Brian about his medical conditions that may make him unable to sing when they start touring again, in front of the rest of the group and their management no less; the other is when Kevin says that he learnt how to ask for a blowjob in German when he was younger and the band was starting to get popular. The former works because it strips away the veneer and shows that things aren’t as perfect as they seem in the rest of the documentary, as they will always be times when bandmates will butt heads about their music; the latter works because it shows a glimpse of genuine humanity and strips away the overly serious tone the group largely takes, as I’m fairly certain that there are a lot of people who will attest that that question would be one of the first things they’d learn in another language. Add to this the fact that all of their past history is given as jumbled as it is, and the innards of this doco aren’t looking good in the slightest.

With all this lack of narrative focus, the filmmakers decided to keep things consistent and pair it up with a lot of literal lack of focus as well. A very large majority of the shots in this film are either pretty badly out-of-focus or just take too long on-screen to actually focus in on what it wants to show. I know that in documentaries, this sort of thing is meant to convey a feeling of realism and rawness to help give the overall production some credibility, but when you have a multi-camera set-up you have no excuse for actually showing us how bad your cameramen are at using their lenses. I highly suspect that one of their cameras is just flat-out broken, considering how many consistently bizarre shots we get where the right-side of the screen looks like it’s been coated in Vaseline. These shots aren’t even during the one-on-one interview segments, where this look could have been passable; in the scene where A.J. is talking with a friend of his at a bowling alley, they are shot through this half-soap opera lens. Even with everyone else going on, the cinematography is seriously distracting; although, to be fair, that might be a good thing.


All in all, this is a horribly put together documentary. The information given is so slapshod that, despite how much it tries to convey and how much the documentary itself tries to be, it fails to deliver any of it in near enough detail, what information is given that can be latched onto is extremely hollow and conveys laughter more than anything else because of how disingenuous it all is and how little the band itself seems to care, and the production values are very shoddy with camerawork that puts found footage hackery to shame. It’s worse than Unfinished Business, as this didn’t even have a nice ending to ease things up a bit, but it’s still not as bad as The Second Best Word Salad, where the narrative was even more scatterbrained than this one. Unless you’re still a die-hard fan of the group, or some kind of pop culture historian, give this film the widest berth possible.

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