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TIFF 2021: Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over Takes a Relentlessly Positive Look at the Famous Singer

Set against a music world profoundly divided between black and white, Don’t Take Me Over tells the dramatic story of Dionne Warwick’s meteoric rise from New Jersey gospel choirs to international cross-over super stardom.

Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over Review

By all accounts, Dionne Warwick is a wonderful lady, a singularly talented singer, an AIDS activist, and even an unlikely social media dynamo. All of that, as well as her intriguing life story, is explored in Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over, a new documentary that debuts this weekend at the Toronto International Film Festival. 

The film, directed by Dave Wooley and David Heilbroner, employs an impressive array of talking heads and is likely the first documentary in history to include commentary from both Snoop Dogg and Bill Clinton. Others appearing include Elton John, Quincy Jones, and Warwick’s sons. 

Snoop Dogg’s contributions are actually a highlight, as he tells of the time that Warwick denounced violent and misogynistic rap lyrics, leading to a subsequent meeting at her home and an unlikely, decades-spanning friendship that resulted. 

But Warwick herself is the film’s best storyteller, sharing everything from early Apollo Theater performances to facing down Southern racists on her travels. The film also serves as a welcome reminder that Warwick had some truly fantastic songs between the late ’60s and late ’80s, like “Do You Know the Way to San Jose,” “Walk On By,” and “I Say a Little Prayer For You.” 

But if there’s one weakness here, it’s that the doc avoids negativity almost completely. 

There’s a documentary at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, Listening to Kenny G, which explores the phenomenon of Kenny being the highest-selling instrumental music artist of all time, even though he’s never gained any type of elite approval, and large swathes of music critics and jazz musicians absolutely hate the man’s guts. 

Don’t Make Me Over, needless to say, is very much not that sort of documentary. For one thing, no one interviewed has a single negative word to say about Warwick. 

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, necessarily. Warwick isn’t nearly the polarizing figure that Kenny G is.  But if there’s anything negative that exists about her, there’s barely any mention of it here. 

 Even her dubious involvement with the Psychic Friends Network in the 1990s, and her eventual bankruptcy, are glossed over within about two minutes, and positioned as a result of Warwick having relinquished the rights to her most popular song, “That’s What Friends Are For,” and directing all of those millions of dollars to AIDS research. 

There actually isn’t anything in the film about Warwick emerging late last year as a hugely popular Twitter presence, although there’s a chance that the film was locked pre-pandemic before all of that happened. The Kenny G doc spends a long time looking at Kenny’s social media successes, although I hadn’t been away that he’d had any. 

There’s no word yet on when Don’t Make Me Over will be available for general release. 

Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist and film critic based in the Philadelphia area. He is the co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle and a Rotten Tomatoes-listed critic since 2008, and his work has appeared in New York Press, Philly Voice, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Tablet, The Times of Israel, and In 2009, he became the first American journalist to interview both a sitting FCC chairman and a sitting host of "Jeopardy" on the same day.

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