Band of Brothers (Documentary Review: “Chasing Happiness”)

The Jonas Brothers behind the mega watt media machine, a revealing journey of family and fraternity

SnapShot Plot

I was never a Jonas Brothers fan, and truth be told, I don’t see myself rushing out now to buy their music. Let’s face it, weren’t they some fabricated boy band spun from the Disney star-making machinery and leashed upon the global pre-pubescent demographic with the might of a tidal wave? Of course the answer is YES, but not so fast. And of course, the truth is so much more raw and real than that.

In the documentary, Chasing Happiness, which the cynics among us may write off as an exercise in self-absorbed navel gazing, the rest of us hopefully will see a family saga whose message resonates deeply and universally. The film, narrated primarily by Kevin, Joe and Nick Jonas with participation by Kevin Sr. and others, tells the story of the family’s modest roots in suburban NJ and their lives as the Pastor’s family in a small church community they helped to build. With music front and center in the church, the boys naturally gravitated to performing and when Nick began landing roles in Broadway musicals, the road began to take shape for his older brothers to follow along similar lines. What began as three brothers having fun quickly turned into ‘a band’ of sorts, and gigs at schools up and down the East Coast, as well as countless mini performances at shopping mall food courts. When Sony Records came knocking, the master plan was to shape the boys into a punk rock band, but that required a crash course on the basics of Rock and Punk, to wit a slog of an uphill climb. A perfect storm of disaster ensued when their record label dumped them, Nick was diagnosed with Juvenile Diabetes, and the church which had been their home and their rock for so many years turned against them, prompting the resignation of Kevin Jonas Sr. The family fell on desperate times and was forced to move to a tiny home in another town in NJ, with a nebulous future ahead and too much riding on the success of the boys to – in essence – save the family.

When Disney stepped in to pave the way for a Jonas Brothers identity matched to a teen demographic with incredible tie-ins and promotional opportunities only they could provide, the sudden catapult into global super stardom was so enormous it might have swallowed the family whole. This is the story of what happened, and how the heights of stardom carry with it inevitable lows, and how the brothers had to decide where to draw the line between the collective of the band and the autonomy of themselves individually.

Parting Shot

Whether Chasing Happiness will bring a new – perhaps older – streaming audience to their music, to match their own maturity, it seems inconsequential to the more central focus of this surprisingly raw documentary. Yes, the big questions of the cost of chasing fame and fortune are put under the microscope, and the filmmakers don’t shy away from showing us those highs and lows in sometimes painful detail. But on this Thanksgiving weekend in America, a film like this urges us to contemplate the sacrifices of family, the values we often take for granted, and the true meaning of Brotherhood, writ both small and universal.

Chasing Happiness is presently streaming on Amazon Prime.

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