Rotten Tomatoes (4/5), Metacritic (8/10), Letterboxd (4/5), Imdb.com (8/10), TMDB.com (4/5)
Creating a great work of art is very much like creating a heartfelt, loving relationship. Both take work and commitment, both in good times and bad. The challenges can be difficult, but the rewards can be incalculable. Learning how to successfully maneuver through them, as well as how to strike a harmonious balance that keeps both ventures moving forward, is a skill that takes an array of abilities and aptitudes to master, but, as documentary filmmaker Matthew Heineman’s latest so deftly illustrates, it’s an attainable goal, the prevailing highs and lows notwithstanding. The film follows the extraordinary year experienced by musician/composer Jon Batiste and his wife, best-selling author Suleika Jaouad. In 2022, they came face to face with both ends of the spectrum of life. Batiste, an artist with an impressive musical range and repertoire, was reaching new heights in his career, winning five Grammy Awards while serving as band leader on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and seeking to complete work on an ambitious composition aimed at reflecting the breadth of our national music, diversity and culture, American Symphony. At the same time, though, Jaouad suffered a recurrence of the cancer she battled a decade earlier, an illness she chronicled in writings that would come to launch a career; now, after a 10-year remission, she was facing a second, potentially risky bone marrow transplant to treat her condition, not to mention an uncertain future. With such seemingly polar opposite fates befalling them, Batiste and Jaouad struggled to get through their respective challenges while keeping their love and art alive, putting their successes into perspective in light of what they were up against otherwise. This intimate, heartstring-tugging documentary gives viewers a candid, up-close look at what a truly loving couple can experience under such diverse, trying and bittersweet circumstances, but without becoming manipulative or melodramatic. This beautifully photographed story provides an unfiltered depiction of the range of emotions that each partner goes through, particularly when it comes to its musings of the philosophical insights observed by each of the spouses. It also showcases Batiste’s wide-ranging musical styles, both in his performances and in his composition process. Admittedly, a few of this offering’s sequences meander a bit, but the overall production is skillfully edited and sensitively portrayed. “American Symphony” is a beautifully moving film, one that reinforces what matters most in life and what makes it worth living, during both good times and bad, as long as we have each other to make our way through it, bringing new meaning to what our marriage vows are ultimately all about.