Released: 4th June
Seen: 10th June
I first became aware of the Jonas Brothers at the same time that the world became aware of them, Camp Rock in 2008. While I never watched that movie, the image of a trio of dark-haired teens trying to be a band was instantly engrained in my head along with the phrase “Corporate Created Crap”. What can I say; even when I was 20, I was a cynical bastard. They just were not my kind of band, they were a band that seemed manufactured to get the attention of 13-year-old girls, they had dorky songs about a Lovebug that wasn’t named Herbie and had a stupid Disney sitcom and were one step below High School Musical… again, I WAS (and still am) A CYNICAL BASTARD. I just didn’t get their popularity, they came up out of nowhere and I could swear they were another band like The Monkees. You know, created by a label to make a stupid sitcom where a new song would be attached to every episode and the idea was to basically force them into a market that probably didn’t want them. Give me a C. Give me a Y. Give me a –NICAL BASTARD. So anyway, when they released a documentary onto Amazon Prime about their life I, now being a 30 something cynical you-know-what, decided to see if maybe there was more to them. It may have taken me a decade, but now I finally get it.
Chasing Happiness tells the full story of the Jonas Brothers from the moment of their creation in a little church in New Jersey through to the release of their song Sucker (available on iTunes). Using a combination of interviews, news footage and home movies we get a peek behind the curtain as this trio of boys slowly realise they have talents and try to make it, going through obstacles like being on a secular label while being part of a church (a big no-no), one of the members learning they have diabetes and eventually the breakup that lasted almost a decade. It’s a real rollercoaster of a ride that I’m sure fans know better than anyone else but witnessing it from my perch on Cynical Bastard Islandtm it felt like a revelation to witness just what these guys have been through and to be amazed at every turn in their story.
A big concern I always have when it comes to documentaries about bands is that they’re going to sugar-coat something, pretend things weren’t as bad as they were or maybe hold back a little. Good documentaries won’t do this, the band will just open up and let the chips fall where they may and the Jonas Brothers definitely do that. Sure they have their moments of being in awe that they could have 20,000 screaming fangirls coming to see their show, but they also don’t hold back when talking about the major problems. They actively call each other out on things that they felt were problems, even when it might sound petty. It’s kind of refreshing to see them being honest about how stunned they were with success and how devastated they were when things exploded, letting us see behind the image that had been sold to us. We all got given this image of three kids with purity rings singing songs about love, but seeing how much they had to go through to get there does feel like a revelation. Also a revelation? How hurt they clearly were with jokes about those purity rings.
The best segments in the entire documentary are easily the ones that revolve around a drunken game where the brothers ask each other very loaded questions while going through god knows how many bottles of alcohol. Interviews have a risk of feeling performative, home movies can be edited out of context easily, but a bunch of guys getting slowly more and more drunk and saying “We did the gig without you because we thought you cared more about your wife than you did about the band” is kind of hard to fake. It’s a genuinely real set of moments that they later expand on when they aren’t 2 glasses deep into a night of drinking and airing dirty laundry. I almost want to just see every minute of that drunk discussion because you just know there was some heavy stuff in there that got cut to fit into the 90-minute runtime.
That runtime is probably the worst thing about this film, it’s way too short. I could’ve happily just had another half hour with more details. We chart their success absolutely perfectly, showing every single step along the way up. We chart the band breaking up, showing the cracks and exposing who actually broke them up and we even get glimpses of what happened in the break… and then with 12 minutes to go in the film it decides to hit the fast forward button. Things are just bullet-pointed from that point on. We got a long time to watch Kevin meet his wife, but Joe and Nick’s relationships are cut down to a montage moment. We get to see a glimpse of when the gang got back together, but there’s an entire year where they had to reconnect and it’s just glossed over. The part that could be a great third act for the movie, witnessing them slowly reform after all the hurt, is just not there. Now maybe they wanted to keep that part private, I wouldn’t blame them for that but it just feels like we’re rushing over a key part of their story.
Chasing Happiness might not be showing you a band that went through wild drug binges and arrests (we never give these guys enough credit for somehow making it out of child stardom without a cocaine habit and 12 mug shots each) but instead it shows a band of brothers who got everything they ever wanted and watch as it almost destroys them. It’s a fascinating peek at a band that had an image gifted to them and shows us just how fake that image was, shows us how much they’ve grown and allows us to actually appreciate them for what they are… a trio of obscenely talented brothers who happened to catch the eye of a sentient mouse. Sure it’s also a slightly manufactured film that just happens to coincide with their new album Happiness Begins, but there’s enough charm and honesty in the film that it forces me to leave Cynical Bastard Islandtm and just admit that I enjoyed it a lot and I’m happy that they managed to get back together… and that Sucker is a bop that hasn’t left my head since I first heard it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have about a decade of music I missed out on due to my severe case of Cynical Bastarditus.