Without the steady hand of Academy Award-winning director Barbara Kopple at the helm, Miss Sharon Jones! could feel like a feature-length episode of Behind the Music. But thanks to keen observations in small moments, a lot of raw emotion and an absolutely killer soundtrack, this is a top-notch rock doc.
Sharon Jones and her band the Dap-Kings have built up a lot of critical goodwill over the years, thanks to their consistently great soul records and electrifying live performances. But all that came to a screeching halt in 2013. The band was about to release their biggest album yet (“Give the People What They Want”), but had to delay its release and world tour when Sharon was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Miss Sharon Jones! intimately chronicles Sharon’s journey back to health, recovering in upstate New York, away from her band, family and friends. It’s a necessary isolation, but also breeds lingering resentment from the rest of the band. Of course they want their longtime friend and co-worker to take all the time she needs to recover, but they’d also like her to hurry up so they can keep working. They’ve got families to support, too.
But credit Kopple and her team for never making the band seem like heartless workers while also never making Sharon seem like a saint. They both have to deal with this disruption in their own ways.
What makes Miss Sharon Jones! different from other documentaries is Sharon’s boundless enthusiasm and energy, even as she’s weak from chemotherapy. This was a woman who was rejected from her first recording contract for being “too dark, too fat and too short” to sell records. But even cancer can’t keep her down. Like the best documentaries, Miss Sharon Jones! has an endlessly fascinating subject.
Sharon never asks for pity or sympathy, just that you get up and dance when she asks you too. When you see Miss Sharon Jones!, you’ll be happy to oblige.