In a time when nostalgia sells better than sex, it’s hard to argue that Amazon’s new Jonas Brothers documentary, Chasing Happiness, is anything more than a ploy to sell the band’s reunion album. And yet, somewhere between home video footage and clips of the band’s glory days, the film achieves something beyond filling up stadiums for the brothers’ 2019 tour.
As a newly loud and proud Jonas Brothers fan, news of the band’s upcoming documentary had me bursting with all the excitement I’d suppressed as an insecure preteen. Sitting down to watch it a few days after its release, I happily expected nothing more than a chance to revisit the pop culture moments that had secretly defined my childhood with an open mind and fresh set of eyes. But by the time the screen faded to black, the film’s uplifting (albeit somewhat contrived) story of brotherhood and sacrifice resonated with me more than I thought it would. The 90 minutes of runtime pulled at my heartstrings as skillfully as the chorus of “Lovebug.”
Barely 10 minutes into the documentary, I was shocked to learn that the Jonas Brothers I knew and loved weren’t a product made by the Disney Channel—or at least, not initially. Although they’d arrived on my screen as bandmates in Camp Rock and then as cartoonish versions of themselves in Jonas and Jonas L.A., they started as three musically-inclined brothers from New Jersey who wanted nothing more than a chance in the spotlight.
While a young Nick Jonas took Broadway and Christian pop by storm before even reaching puberty, his brothers Joe and Kevin traded their free time for rehearsal sessions, making their own way in show business acting on stage and in commercials. But the older they got, the clearer it became that nothing could beat the feeling of performing together as brothers. So by the time they hit their floppy-haired tween years, Kevin, Nick, and Joe had ditched their solo ventures to join forces.
The rest, as they say, is history—except, as the film makes clear, it isn’t that simple. There were a lot of (previously unrevealed) ups and downs on the road to Jonasmania.
12-hour rehearsals six days a week, burgeoning health concerns, and their family’s exclusion from the church their father ministered are just a few of the lows Chasing Happiness focuses on before it relishes in the highs of the brothers’ fame.
The highs, of course, are moments from their years of peak popularity—throngs of devoted fans attending their album launches, nights playing sold-out stadiums, and long tour bus rides filled with brotherly hijinks.
Chasing Happiness embraces the obvious underdog narrative in the hope that we’ll once again root for the little guy—who is, in this case, the now-adult band of brothers who’ve returned from relative obscurity to make it big a second time. In a lot of ways, the film succeeds. The story of coming from humble beginnings and struggling against the odds to find fame is a familiar but positive one.
There’s no denying that the film’s a plug for their new album—its very title, Happiness Begins, is in direct conversation with the doc’s wistful title Chasing Happiness. However, it’s also a surprisingly honest look at the lives of brothers who found Disney-fueled, Beatles-like fame before they were old enough to vote.
In particular, Chasing Happiness doesn’t shy away from the truth about the band’s 2013 breakup, nor does it resolve the remaining tension. When the brothers reflect on what drove them apart way back when, Joe gets teary-eyed at the memory of Nick’s sudden split from the band, while Kevin is told his brothers once felt like he was holding them back. Even as the film’s focus shifts to the happier aspects of the reunion, it’s hard to shake the feeling that they’re still not completely over all of it.
In fact, that’s where the documentary succeeds the most. For all its cheesy reminiscing of the glory days, it doesn’t gloss over the past. We as viewers get the sense that we’ve been given a small but candid slice of Nick, Joe, and Kevin’s lives, including some of the hardest times they’ve faced as brothers and bandmates.
As the film comes to a close, the brothers’ renewed optimism in each other and their music despite the hardships they faced as young adults makes the audience confident in their future success. We can leave convinced that maybe their new album, with its focus not on chasing but on opening yourself up to happiness, isn’t just a record full of bops but part of their own journey of healing from the past and moving forward.
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