In 2022, Jon Batiste was nominated for 11 Grammys in categories ranging from R&B, Jazz, classical and score soundtrack (for Pixar’s “Soul”). On the same day, his wife, NYT columnist Suleika Jaouad, received her first chemo treatment for a rare form of leukemia, her second bout after having been in remission for 10 years. More pressure would be added when Batiste was informed he’d been booked into Carnegie Hall to perform his first “American Symphony.”
Laura's Review: B+
Robin's Review: B+
2022 was the year that was for musician Jon Batiste as he received 11 Grammy nominations, including Album of the Year. But, his year at the top becomes a sobering event when his long-time partner, author Suleika Jaouad, learns that her decade-dormant cancer rears its ugly head again in “American Symphony.”
As I started watching this year-in-a-life story about Jon Batiste, I felt that it was an indulgence for the musician as he touts his budding career and that he is to direct his original composition at the famous Carnegie Hall. It is a story of a young man destined for great acclaim.
Then, the sobering aspect of the story takes hold as Jon’s beloved partner, Suleika, learns her once-dormant leukemia is back and, once again, takes its toll on the young woman. As she and he face her new ordeal, he is still preparing for his very important concert. This means they must bear periods of separation, especially as she is going through the ordeal of her chemotherapy.
So, what director Matthew Heineman gives us is the story of the year in the life of a young musical genius who is on the fast track to fame in the classical music world – culminating in his Carnegie Hall debut. We watch the process as he painstakingly composes, revises, adjusts and plays his developing opus.
Director Heineman gives equal shrift to Suleika and her plight with cancer. What comes from her story is the love and devotion the two feel for each other. Each is facing an important point in their individual lives but what comes through is how devoted they are to each other. And for us as we get to se Suleika leave the hospital to the applause of the staff.
For a movie that deals with exceptional highs and lows in a couple’s life, the telling is a gentle flow of the invention of his composition in a soup-to-nuts cycle of inception, creation, honing and refining to the final anticipated performance. But, all the while of creation is the love story that is, to me, the heart of “American Symphony.”
Laura's Score: B+
Netflix releases "American Symphony" in select theaters on 11/24/23. It begins streaming on 11/29/23.