Justin Timberlake Gets the Jonathan Demme Treatment in Toronto

Toronto 2016: Director’s latest concert film goes front row with pop superstar

Last Updated: September 13, 2016 @ 10:59 PM

Esteemed director Jonathan Demme is no stranger to the concert documentary — or, as he would call it, the performance film.

Aside from being the force behind cinema classics like “Silence of the Lambs,” Demme has made some unscripted and thoroughly revealing music-based films like the Talking Heads’ “Stop Making Sense” and “Neil Young: Heart of Gold.”

However, global pop superstar Justin Timberlake still seemed incredulous that Demme would bless him by directing “Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids,” which saw it’s world premiere Wednesday at the Toronto Film Festival.

“I’m in love with you,” Timberlake told Demme on stage at Toronto’s Roy Thompson Hall, as he accepted gratuitous praise from shrieking fans in the symphony space that doubles as a screening room during TIFF.

The premise is simple enough — Demme and his crew were invited to shoot the final show in a two-year run on The 20/20 Experience World Tour, in support of Timberlake’s third solo EP “The 20/20 Experience.”

Las Vegas’ MGM Grand doubled as a film set for the former *NSYNC frontman and his house band, The Tennessee Kids.

A brief intro sees Timberlake pull up to the service entrance of the famed hotel to greet his crew, dancers, wardrobe, etc, but audiences should not be fooled into thinking there’s even a glimpse of the inner life of Timberlake, Inc.

We hit the stage in minutes flat and stay there for the duration of the hour-and-a-half run. This isn’t a drawback — Timberlake is a born showman, and the 20/20 team has charm to spare.

It’s hard not to sense a bit of missed opportunity, though, especially as companion films like these have become weapons of mass promotion and instant myth builders for pop stars — take Justin Bieber and his widely celebrated Jon M. Chu film “Believe,” or the VanGuard of the narrative-meets-performance genre in Beyonce’s “Life Is But a Dream.”

Timberlake doesn’t seem to have anything to sell but his music, which still holds up through 12 years as a solo act.

There are a few drop-in moments that reinforce the Timberlake brand. Like a ‘Justin Timberlake is Such a Good Guy’ scene where he breaks the fourth wall to ask the camera crew if they want a drink or a bite to eat.

There’s also the genre staple of the before-show-prayer, in which he seems to rouse his band and dancers more than the holy spirit with a call-and-response of  “Who are we? The greatest/ Where we at?/ Las Vegas.”

There’s also a hero shot of Timberlake hitting soaring notes in a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature.” Demme’s lens pans way up above the stage to the roof of the venue, as if to catch Jackson winking down on Timberlake and crowning him an heir to his own throne.

Tom Ford tuxedos and slick dance moves bring a Rat Pack feel, but the filmmakers justify their title with a little acoustic country session between Timberlake and his Southern band — the “Social Network” star’s chic bowtie replaced by an open collared shirt with black leather lightning bolts adorning his chest.

There’s a cute cameo from prolific producer Timothy “Timbaland” Mosely, JT’s most treasured and hitmaking collaborator, who offers his friend a shot of tequila in the final moments of the concert. The film also ends with a dedication to the late great Prince.

But the show belongs to the headliner. He finishes the set and the film with the barn-burning, gorgeous track “Mirror.”

“I’m more nervous about this premiere than any other premiere of my career,” Timberlake confessed in his remarks, “I usually get to hide behind a character.”

As if Timberlake would ever fear his own reflection.