Well done making me feel old Backstreet Boys. It was recently their 20th anniversary, which makes me feel ancient, as I can remember when they were the new kids on the block (who were constantly compared to the New Kids Of The Block). This documentary was made as part of the celebration of that milestone, as well as to chronicle a new page in the Boys’ book, with the return of Kevin Richardson to the group, along with a new album and tour.
It’s the sort of documentary project that could have been far too laudatory and vain for its own good, but it turns out Show ‘Em What You’re Made Of is much more interesting than that. The film mixes showing us what is happening with the boys as they record their new album – including some major bust-ups and Brian having massive issues with his voice – with the history of the band.
It does a good job of bringing you into their story, from being brought together by Lou Perlman, through their early success in Europe and onto the Backstreet hysteria of the mid-to-late 90s, when the five young men couldn’t go anywhere without thousands of screaming fans following them around. (I have minor personal experience of this, as I used to know someone who was Kevin’s worst stalker. She used to rush around LA to wherever she’d heard he might be – yet she never managed to see him).
The film’s smartest move is to take the boys back to some key places from their early story, which helps open them up and provides some of the film’s greatest impact. For example, while they’re talking about how Lou Perlman screwed them over and is now in prison having been behind a $300 million Ponzi scheme, the quintet end up wandering around the former impresario’s empty mansion, remembering how different things once were.
Likewise towards the end Nick Carter visits his childhood home and school, which brings out high emotion in the singer. Indeed it’s the key moment in the entire movie, as after hearing the Backstreet story – a lot of which covers relatively typical music territory such as drug problems, intra-group tensions and burn out – Nick breaking down as he visits his old school is a potent reminder that no matter how famous and successful they’ve been, they’re all human beings who came from humble backgrounds and in their youths overcame some very relatable struggles.
Thankfully Show ‘Em What You’re Made Of thankfully doesn’t ignore the negatives of either the Backstreet story or the boys’ personalities, including a major argument between Nick and Brian, which helps make the whole thing feel more real and honest.
I have to say I was surprised, as I expected the documentary to be okay but essentially a bit of a vanity project where the best we could expect was a fairly interesting story and a lot of good music (no matter whether you’re a fan or not, it’s difficult to deny they’ve produced some great pop music – few tunes can get a whole room dancing like Backstreet’s Back). However I found myself far more invested in both the story and the boys themselves than I expected to be, helped by the fact there’s an openness here that’s unusual in this type of film.
There is no doubt that Backstreet fans will adore this, and even those who don’t have shelves full of BB CDs and merchandise may find they enjoy it far more than they expected to.
Backstreet Boys: Show ‘Em What You’re Made Of is in UK cinemas nationwide on 26 February, followed by a special performance by the band broadcast live by satellite http://www.backstreetboys.com/international
Overall Verdict: A great look back at 20 years of the Backstreet Boys, with plenty of music, an interesting story, drama and more honesty than you might expect. However the film’s greatest success is reminding us that behind fame are real people, and their struggles aren’t just about the downsides of stardom.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac