Luther: Never Too Much – 2024 Sundance Film Festival

Dwight Brown, Film Critic for and NNPA News Wire | 2/1/2024, 2:20 p.m.
At a young age, Luther Vandross knew music was his calling and there could be no other day job. Vandross: …
Luther Vandross

At a young age, Luther Vandross knew music was his calling and there could be no other day job. Vandross: “I really don’t want a plan B. It's going to be this or I'm going to be 80 years old trying to do this!” That drive and determination is on view in every frame of this enlightening bio/doc along with his silky voice, vocal gymnastics and knack for penning a catchy tune.

Director Dawn Porter (John Lewis: Good Trouble) guides and assembles the precious collection of live performances, TV clips and Luther interviews. She questions those who knew him (Jamie Foxx), sang with him (Fonzi Thornton), dueted with him (Mariah Carey), managed him (Clive Davis) and were his idols (Dionne Warwick). The stars around him reminisce, but he is the sun, the brightest light.

His first big break (singing with the in-house Apollo Theater group “Listen My Brother”), second break (singing on “Sesame Street”), third break (doing vocals arrangements on David Bowie’s classic album “Young Americans”) and fourth break (writing and singing jingles for commercials) prepared him for his solo career and Grammy Award recognition.

The cinematography (Bryan Gentry) and editing (Mark Fason) add a professional touch. Porter seems to navigate through Vandross’ life sensitively. Issues with weight, diabetes, a stroke and his longing for a loving partner are mentioned. His urge for his music to crossover is put in perspective when he says he wants what Billy Ocean, Tina Turner and Lionel Ritchie achieved. Then there are his hits: “Superstar,” “Give Me the Reason, “Endless Love,” “Here and Now” and of course ”Never Too Much.”

It's sad but gratifying to learn why his monster cross-over hit “Dance With My Father” was so special to him. It’s a fitting coda to a touching documentary. A very illuminating recollection of a man who could sing anyone under the table and any audience into submission. This beautifully crafted Luther Vandross diary brings the house down. It’s got “Love Power.”

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