Film Review: The Zen of BennettAs simple as Tony Bennett’s life is, his magic could’ve used a documentary less simple-minded than <i>The Zen of Bennett</i> to explain it.
The man at the center of The Zen of Bennett has such a definitive voice that anyone who hears Tony Bennett’s music can get a sense of what sort of person he is. That’ll have to suffice, though, considering you could glean more about his personality from any of the interviews he’s given over the years than from this documentary, which gazes at him for 84 minutes without really getting a good look. In fact, given how much footage there is of him in different studios putting together 2011’s Duets II, the whole documentary plays like one long commercial to get audiences to buy it.
On the other hand, all that time visiting studios gives us an opportunity to see how he handles himself whenever he steps up to the microphone...and what sets him apart from many of his disciples. When he reunites with Michael Buble to sing "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," Buble confesses that until they first got together, he had no idea how much singing with a live band could do to make a recording work. Bennett’s methods also seem to make an impression on Carrie Underwood, who apparently didn’t expect to get through their take on "It Had to Be You" as quickly as they did.
Bennett enlists Aretha Franklin, Willie Nelson, Norah Jones and Natalie Cole, too, but so what? Doesn’t a legend who’s been singing over 60 years have a history this film might want to shed light on? Although there’s some focus on his skill for drawing that adds to his character, the peek at his time in World War II serves only as an example of how much more the movie’s missing.
What’s left is a musical mess as underwhelming as Michael Jackson’s This Is It, and for the same reason: Rehearsals and small talk can only take a documentary so far. Even if this movie’s got a celebrity behind it, it’d help if it didn’t settle for taking him at face value. Most moviegoers probably won’t…even those who show up at the multiplex in worship mode. Fans have done their part anyway—in the United States, Duets II sold over one million copies.
—The Hollywood Reporter