Sundance 2024: Sue Bird: In the Clutch, Luther: Never Too Much, Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story | Festivals & Awards
Maybe it’s because I remembered when “Dance with My Father” hit and everyone played it as their father-daughter song at weddings and quinces for years that I, and maybe many of you as well, took Luther Vandross’ music for granted for its ubiquity. But Dawn Porter’s “Luther: Never Too Much” hit both those nostalgic feelings and gave me a deeper appreciation for the man and his music. Porter unearths incredible footage from his earliest years, like when he sang as part of a group on “Sesame Street” or recorded numerous commercial jingles, long before his talent earned him the spotlight. She retraces the roots of his musical background and influences like Aretha Franklin and Diane Warwick, documenting his background vocal career working with David Bowie, Roberta Flack, and Bette Midler, all of which prepared him for the next stage of his own solo career. It’s a documentary about some of the best American music through the lens of an ambitious and prolific talent.
Porter’s film is rich in details and testimonies from Vandross’ colleagues, friends, and contemporaries. Although Vandross’ rise was marked by struggles—both professionally and personally with his weight and loneliness—she covers these topics sensitively and never lets them overshadow his music. There’s one hit after another, including the film’s nod to his catchy breakout, “Never Too Much,” as if reminding you yeah, you’ve heard his music, and you love it.
“Luther: Never Too Much” is an emotional journey through a catalog of unforgettable music and a thorough depiction of the grind it takes to make it in the industry. Even through the toughest parts of Vandross’ life, the film’s tone feels genuinely joyful because it continues to return to his music. Interviews reveal the thoughtful person he was offstage, the camaraderie he found with friends and collaborators, and the tireless dedication he spent on his craft, shaping the look and style of his extravagant shows and revising the many songs that kept fans dancing through the decades, whether that was an over-the-phone listening session or a wedding dance song.
Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui’s “Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story” was easily my big festival cry, something that moves you so deeply that the combination of sleep deprivation, altitude, and the movie’s subject makes it almost impossible not to get emotional. Anyone who remembers Reeve as Superman will likely learn something new about the actor, how funny he was on talk shows, laugh at the charming home movies of Reeve with his three kids or as he clowned around with his best friend and former roommate Robin Williams. These moments of reprieve puncture the more somber sides of his story, including an ever-disapproving father, divorces, and, later, the accident that changed his life forever.