The Reel Review
The life of the late Queen of Disco, Donna Summer, is explored in this documentary directed by Roger Ross Williams and Brooklyn Sudano, one of her three daughters. The film examines some of the personal challenges Summer faced during her meteoric career in which she became one of the best-selling music artists of all time, selling 100 million records worldwide.
Most Donna Summer fans will be disappointed with this film. Rather than a comprehensive, well thought out story about Summer’s life, the film hops around, haphazardly glossing over her incredible achievements, and instead relying heavily on never-before-seen archival footage as wallpaper for voiceover interviews – some in dire need of audio enhancement – with Summer’s friends, family and exes, many of whom we never see. The resulting confusion over who is saying what and when makes the film feels more like a poorly edited home video than a documentary.
Eventually we get a pieced together portrait of an exceptionally private and secretive, overworked artist and, at least initially, reluctant mother – an individual who had been sexually abused by her pastor when she was a child and in later years, was devastated about what she says were misperceptions about her views on the LGBTQ+ community. The film’s only real highlights are the archival footage of Summer’s stage performances – a reminder of her incredible contribution to pop music. But we never really get to know the real Donna Summer behind the façade, and for that, this needlessly dull documentary is a major misfire.
• Donna Summer died at her winter home in Naples, Florida in 2012 at age 63 following a 10-month battle with lung cancer. She is buried at the Harpeth Hills Memory Gardens cemetery in Nashville, Tennessee.
• Summer amassed a lifetime total of 32 chart singles on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, including 14 top ten singles and four number one singles.
• When Summer died, she left her estimated $75 million fortune to her husband Bruce Sudano. For more than a decade since, Summer’s three daughters have been embroiled in a highly contentious legal battle over her estate.