David Foster: Off the Record movie review (2020)

The only people who truly challenge Foster, who make his self-proclaimed status as an egomaniac and control freak a complex trait, are Chicago. Foster saved the band by giving them new ballads to play, a change that turned horn players into synthesizer musicians, and made Foster a co-writer on their songs. His redirection for Chicago lead to new hits, but also songs that weren’t true to their original sound. You can sense a tension when a few members of Chicago talk about it, and it provides a messiness that’s far more honest than stories behind the Grammy trophies on Foster’s grand piano. There are far too many chosen moments that sound like miracles from a movie (a metaphor that Foster uses twice, to describe hearing Celine Dion and then Josh Groban for the first time), and not enough that play like they’ve been pulled from the messiness of making art with others. 

Midway through the movie, Avrich takes long detours to topics about Foster’s personal life, related to his complicated history with his multiple wives and his supportive daughters, or mentioning how these family dynamics were then put on-camera with trashy reality shows “The Princes of Malibu” and later “The Real Housewives of Los Angeles.” As some syrupy, minor-key piano plays in the background, these passages are a banal, abrupt departure from the previous music history. Foster is also so closed-off, while the documentary nonetheless collects compliments about him as a father and husband, that these moments have little depth and purpose. 

It all becomes obvious toward the movie’s end, in which Foster says that he doesn’t want to go to therapy, for fear of what will be uncovered. Stating that very trepidation is exactly when someone should leap into the wonders of therapy, but it’s an obvious statement coming from Foster, who then says he prefers to let his emotions out on the piano. Foster’s revelation here also says the quiet part of this documentary loud—instead of a therapist, he has a documentary crew who lets him recount the past, without the threat of challenging him. Foster has a golden gut when it comes to hits in music, but I think it’ll be better for him when he realizes why this narrow documentary about his life is a big miss. 

Now streaming on Netflix.

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