'Quincy': Film Review | TIFF 2018

A sweet tribute, but no Thriller.

Rashida Jones celebrates her legendary father's remarkable life and legacy in this Netflix-bound documentary.

What is the greatest gift an adoring daughter can give to her legendary father for his 85th birthday? For actor and filmmaker Rashida Jones, daughter of Quincy, the answer appears to be a career-spanning mixtape documentary. Directed by Rashida in conjunction with sometime jazz drummer Alan Hicks, Quincy is an unapologetically partisan insider's portrait. The material is rich and the cast list starry, but the overall package veers a little too close to gushing vanity project in places. Just unveiled at the Toronto International Film Festival, this Netflix-bound production is set to premiere Sept. 21 on the streaming service.

From his traumatic Chicago boyhood scarred by poverty, racism and mental illness to his world-shaking collaborations with Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, Michael Jackson and more, Quincy has certainly led a cinematically broad life. The key advantage of having a close relative behind the camera is the wide-open access that Rashida secures to her father's inner circle of friends, private photo archive and home movies, many featuring her younger self. The key drawback is her possibly unavoidable lack of critical distance toward her subject. Quincy gives us the headline numbers — 29 Grammy Awards, seven Oscar nominations, seven children by five women — but not enough of the stories behind them.

That said, Quincy is an effortlessly engaging portrait of a music icon whose laid-back charisma, prodigious ego and poetic turn of phrase can still light up a movie screen. Shot over three years in more than 20 countries, the film depicts a tireless elder statesman who has paid a steep price for his superhuman work rate. Having almost died from two brain aneurysms in 1974, Quincy was hospitalized more recently with a diabetic coma and blood clot. He remains infectiously bullish about his rude health, but questions about his mortality inevitably hover just out of shot.

The film's well-connected subject is renowned as one of the most shameless name-droppers in show business. Quincy underscores this by showing him schmoozing with popes and presidents, legends and superstars, from Count Basie to Kendrick Lamar, Ella Fitzgerald to Lady Gaga, Frank Sinatra to Jay-Z, Nelson Mandela to Oprah Winfrey. There is a dazzling arsenal of celebrity firepower here, but mainly as fly-on-the-wall cameos, with too few pressed into speaking on camera. In interview terms, Quincy himself is the main composer, arranger and soloist. His ex-wife (and Rashida's mother) Peggy Lipton also shares some memories, but never appears onscreen, only in archive footage.

The picture that Quincy constructs is one of a musical genius, noble humanitarian and loving family man whose working relationships seem to have been almost unanimously smooth. The fierce ambition and steely determination that made Jones the first black vice president of a major record label are barely visible here. Quincy himself defaults to diplomatic mode in interviews, recalling Sinatra's progressive racial attitudes but not his mob connections, praising Jackson's skills with no mention of the recent multimillion-dollar lawsuit over unpaid royalties that he won from the late singer's estate. Some major players in his life, notably his former long-term partner Nastassja Kinski, do not figure at all in this carefully curated greatest-hits collection.

Sprawling beyond the two-hour mark, Quincy would benefit from a sharper edit and tighter structure. It ultimately feels like an extended love letter from a famous daughter to her super-famous dad. The sentiment is sweet enough, but a few more messy, gossipy, off-key notes might have given this overly sunny symphony more jazzy depth.

Production companies: Le Train Train, Bob's Your Uncle, Tribeca Film
Cast: Quincy Jones, Rashida Jones, Kendrick Lamar, Herbie Hancock, Dr. Dre
Directors-screenwriters: Rashida Jones, Alan Hicks

Producer: Paula DuPré Pesmen
Cinematographer: Rory Anderson
Editors: Andrew McAllister, Will Znidaric
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF Docs)

124 minutes