By Dwight Brown (NNPA News Wire Film Critic)
Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings is a Grammy-nominated R&B band from Brooklyn. Their groove is funky like James Brown’s. Jones’ gyrations are as wild and ferocious as Tina Tuner’s. The group’s soul shakes and their lead singer’s indomitable spirit blend into something very special, heartfelt and familial. When Jones is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, it rocks the band’s foundation. Her fight for life and that harrowing journey is what’s on view in this very emotional and inspiring documentary titled, “Miss Sharon Jones!”
According to the American Cancer Society, for all stages of pancreatic cancer combined, the one-year relative survival rate is 20 percent and the five-year survival rate is 6 percent. Blacks are more likely to be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer than Whites.
Jones is the lead singer and the star attraction of her group. Her ability to perform and record determines whether the artists she loves can keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. She has a lot of responsibilities and a lot of reasons to want to beat her deadly illness. At just 4’11” she carries the weight of a mountain on her shoulders.
Jones’ willingness to share her feelings, fears and her recollections of being told she was “too short, too fat and too dark” to have a successful singing career is never less than courageous. Her gutsy outlook on life puts viewers squarely in her corner. She’s an everyday superwoman letting a lot of people ride on her cape.
In many ways, she is no different than others who undergo cancer treatments: surgery, week-upon-week of chemotherapy, a loss of energy, loss of hair, doubts and despair. In other ways her experience is so unique because of her public life and a support system that consists predominately of friends and medical/healing practitioners and not her immediate family.
Veteran documentarian Barbara Kopple (Oscar winner, “Harlan County U.S.A.” and “American Dream”) takes the audience behind the scenes as this ultra-cool music group with an old school feel goes through hell and back. Kopple’s efforts are aided by judicious editing (Anne Fratto, Jean Tsien) and illuminating cinematography (Gary Griffin, Tony Hardmon, Kyle Kibbe).
For 94 heart-warming minutes, every emotion, every dramatic confrontation, setback and supportive gesture is on view. It’s hard not to be touched by it all. It’s as if Kopple’s camera is an invisible friend that lets you hold Jones’ hand along the way. Witnessing the singer’s day-to-day battle is an extraordinarily humbling and enlightening experience.
This personal story will make you appreciate the very essence of life. By the end of the film, you’ll desperately want Jones to recover, revive her career and make it back to center stage. Will she?
Bring a hanky and get blessed by a beautiful spirit. “Miss Sharon Jones!” is pure joy.
Dwight Brown is a film critic and travel writer. As a critic, he regularly attends international film festivals including Cannes, Sundance, Toronto and the American Black Film Festival. Read more movie reviews by Dwight Brown here and at DwightBrownInk.com.