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The Greatest Concert That Never Was

Something very, very good came out of something very, very bad.

The very, very bad thing? That would be the movie "Couples Retreat." BMNB and I don't always agree on which movies to see. I wanted to see "This Is It," but he wanted comedy on the same plane as "The Hangover." Despite the bad movie reviews, he wanted to see "Couples Retreat." I agreed.

It is the only time I have ever not only walked out on a movie, but demanded my money back. It is the first time BMNB and I did this as a couple.

The movie is produced, co-written and starring Vince Vaughn. It starts with a scene in which one of Vaughn's buddies, an overweight brother who has just gone through a painful divorce and has taken up with a twenty-something year-old, is in a motorcycle dealership trying to convince Vaughn's character over the phone to co-sign a loan for him to buy a motorcycle to please his girlfriend since his divorce has wrecked his credit. To persuade Vaughn's character to co-sign, the brother proclaims the purchase of the motorcycle to be "a black thing" that Vaughn's character "wouldn't understand." Vaughn's character chides him: "Don't go playing the race card with me."

Ugh.

By the time the four couples involved get to the couples retreat on a tropical island, the brother and his girlfriend (how they could afford a couples retreat when the brother couldn't afford a motorcycle because of bad credit is beyond me) are the racial foils in a poorly written script. The girlfriend, a stereotypical ignorant hood rat, doesn't know that "wahoo" is a fish and, when informed, refuses to order it and starts spouting off about the "Mexicans" in the back cooking, only to be corrected about her racism by one of the white wives who is "1/12 Latina."

Ugh.

"Why we gotta be the ignorant ones?" BMNB asked. I suggested, for the second time, that we not only leave, but that we ask for our money back and go see "This Is It." He agreed. And we got our money back.

Maybe Vince Vaughn doesn't know how to write comedies in which black people are funny without being the stereotypical butt of the jokes. It can be done, Vince Vaughn. Maybe you need to see some funny black films like Boomerang, Brown Sugar, and the like.

Anyway, we left. And I am so grateful, because "This Is It" was a treat. It is, without a doubt, the greatest concert that never was.

"This Is It" is not just footage of rehearsals for Michael Jackson's last tour -- it includes behind-the-scenes footage of how the concert tour was going to be put together -- all the special effects, the costume design, the stage design, the choreography, everything. With every glimpse into these facets involving people who are the best of their respective crafts from around the world, I kept saying, "WOW. That is COOL!" You see how Michael Jackson wanted to give his best performance ever and leave his fans mesmerized. I was mesmerized by the film itself.

I was amazed by Jackson, not because the rehearsals represented his best performances ever -- they didn't, and they weren't intended to. What amazed me was that Jackson, presumably because he was trying to preserve his voice, sang at what can be best called "half-throttle" -- and even then he was better than most singers, rarely missing a note. And the moves. At age 50, Michael still had the moves. They were in his freakin' DNA. He didn't have to rehearse all the choreography from his videos. It was in his DNA, and he could tap into it at any moment. And he did. Spontaneously, at times. Despite being surrounded by dancers half his age, even as good as those dancers were -- and they were -- you could still tell that Michael was the master and they were still the students. Brilliant students, but students nonetheless.

The singers and the musicians brought it, too. And in one scene, a woman guitarist doing a solo is encouraged by Michael to shine. "I want to hear your highest note. I want you to shine. And we'll all be right here with you." How many stars of his caliber are that generous to want those around them to shine as much as he did?

To a person, each and every artist involved in this production was a die-hard fan determined to give his or her all to this effort. The costume designers talked about working with other designers and even the folks at Swarovski to create one-of-a-kind electrical costumes that had never been created before for a concert tour. The special effects folks re-filmed parts of Michael's videos (I won't tell which) in 3-D, catapulted dancers from below the stage floor, and even had Michael on a cherry-picker high above the audience. The musicians appreciated that Michael knew what he wanted, knew his music, just knew, with one begging Michael to do his own sound checks because, in his words, "Only you can see it, Michael." One aspiring dancer took the next available flight from Australia upon hearing of auditions just two days before. Another who was chosen from the audition chorus line to be part of the tour dropped to her knees and cried when she was chosen. The dancers chosen for the tour, many of them fans of Michael since their childhoods, were determined to be, as director Kenny Ortega dictated, "extensions of Michael Jackson himself."

One thing you'll notice is that Michael was a benevolent perfectionist. He knew exactly what he wanted things to sound and look like and would give direction with clarity and an overabundance of love, often saying, "with love," after giving instructions. The closest he ever comes to being a divo is when a musician assures him that, with respect to a particular song, that "they'll get there," and Michael responds quietly but firmly, "Make sure that we get there." No tantrums, no yelling. More often than not, what you'll hear when someone messes up is Michael saying reassuringly and calmly, "That is why we rehearse," with the patience of a father teaching a child. More than the exceptional talent of Michael and those around him, what shines in this film is Michael's kindness and childlike joy in what he was doing. At times, when he's busting a move, a wry, child-like smile emerges, like he can't help but take joy in what he's doing and can't contain himself. At one point he even starts singing at full throttle, only to reign himself in. His musical director tells him, "That's okay. You were feeling it, Michael." Because he was. And you will, too. Sometimes his own dancers and staff would break out into applause just watching Michael. They couldn't help it. You, too, might find yourself waving your arms from side to side when Michael sings "I'll Be There," for what probably was the last time.

But for the fact that I was sitting in one of the middle rows, I would have gotten out of my seat and danced, too. I applauded loudly as if I were at a concert. And I appreciated Michael's environmental message, which was unexpected, and, most of all, his message of love for all.

If you're a Michael Jackson fan, you need to see this movie to appreciate all that would have been. You should also see it as a tribute to those excellent musicians, singers, dancers, choreographers, special effects artists, aerialists, costume designers, stage designers, makeup artists, and the like who, as Michael asked of them, "gave their all" to put on a show that would have been second to none, that would have pushed the boundaries of what a concert could be, just like Michael pushed the boundaries of dance, music, videos. And kindness.

Because that was how Michael Jackson rolled.

Comments

BWB, have you heard about the whole UK thing. The "black couple" was removed from the promotional poster of Couples Retreat.
Nope, I didn't. I wish the promotional poster itself had been removed!

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