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TV/Film Reviews

Film Review: ‘Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over’ (dir. David Heilbroner + Dave Wooley) | TIFF 2021

Are there any especially revealing or shocking stories in this? Not really, but if you know Dionne Warwick, you know she’s not the kind of star surrounded by controversy in the first place. There are countless great stories in here, though.

This nostalgic and upbeat documentary about Dionne Warwick from directors David Heilbroner and Dave Wooley — titled after her hit song, Don’t Make Me Over — features appearances from fellow music icons, including, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, Snoop Dogg, Alicia Keys, Gloria Estefan, Smokey Robinson, and even Bill Clinton (yeah, that one was a surprise to me too).

For an icon whose career has spanned six phenomenal decades, it is unlikely and frankly unexpected to see a resurgence this late. Warwick has proven that wrong, though. If you’ve been on Twitter in the last year or so, or if you watched Saturday Night Live last season, you know that Dionne warwick has recently gained a new, younger-skewing audience with her instantly viral behavior. Does that generation really know what Dionne Warwick’s career entailed? Maybe not all of them. So I hope that this serves to educate the youngins out there.

Are there any especially revealing or shocking stories in this? Not really, but if you know Dionne Warwick, you know she’s not the kind of star surrounded by controversy in the first place. There are countless great stories in here, though. There is this one story told involving Dionne Warwick calling out Snoop Dogg to his face that I had never heard before, and it was a perfect representation of the strong Black woman that Dionne Warwick is.

One aspect of Warwick’s career that doesn’t get nearly enough credit these days is her activism and philanthropy work. She worked to bring about racial awareness after her album in Europe was marketed with a white woman featured on the cover. She also unapologetically and unabashedly stood up for the victims of the AIDS epidemic and the LGTBQ+ community, striving to break the stigma around the disease while working with the US government and amfAR.

She speaks very humbly about her service to others saying simply, “I did what I could do,” and that’s just about all we can ask for from a person. There are so many tasks we feel passionate about, but what’s truly important is that we take the steps we can as individuals, and thus collectively, to better a situation.

This documentary doesn’t do anything to reinvent the wheel as far as celebrity documentary-making. It’s a pretty paint-by-numbers in terms of structure bouncing back-and-forth between its confessional one-on-one interviews and archival footage. Playing it safe doesn’t make it bad by any means. While it may not be revolutionary as far as how it’s made, I do hope people recognize how revolutionary the figure at the center of it is.

A large chunk of the documentary is focused on Dionne Warwick’s relationship to her first cousin, Whitney Houston, and Warwick’s aunt, Cissy Houston, even joins Warwick to talk with her about their family. That was especially insightful because that is one famous familial connection in music that I feel like isn’t talked about enough.

Seeing all of these music stars from today’s age just further proves the influence Dionne Warwick has had on the generations of singers that came after her.

Given Dionne’s renewed popularity on social media, this couldn’t come at a better time. It’s particularly nice that we get the chance to hear her story from her while we still have her here with us. Ms. Warwick, if you’re reading this, never change.

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