“THANK YOU, GOODNIGHT: THE BON JOVI STORY”

Last Updated: June 12, 2024By Tags: , , ,

Filmmaker Gotham Chopra is primarily known for sports documentaries such as “Shut Up and Dribble” and “David Ortiz: The Last Walk Off,” so, it might seem surprising that his latest docuseries should be about Bon Jovi. The filmmaker has said that Jon Bon Jovi, a big-time sports fan, had seen Chopra’s series about Tom Brady, “Man in the Arena,” and got in touch with Chopra as his eponymous band was getting ready to celebrate the close of its fourth decade since forming in the early-eighties.

Chopra immediately said yes to working together.  The result of his years of hard work, “Thank You, Goodnight: The Bon Jovi Story,” is now streaming on Hulu.  The rock doc ticks many of the familiar boxes from the way up as well as some dizzying views from the heights: The hungry kid with talent from Sayreville, New Jersey, dreams of rock n’ roll stardom, plays in some local bands, writes his music, gets rejected 99 times before one yes, stumbles again, success, more success, worldwide success, frustrations, failures—and aging.

As “Thank You, Goodnight” opens in 2022, Jon Bon Jovi—his once-bright-blond hair now completely white—is prepping for the band’s 40th anniversary tour amid the ongoing pandemic.  Thanks to a particularly rough bout of COVID, Jon is having vocal troubles.  Doctors and therapists work to get his bright tenor voice back into shipshape, but surgery might be necessary, they say, if he is ever to get his vocals to where they once were.

At sixty, the frontman wonders if the time has come for him to retire.

“I started to see in real-time [that] something was going on with the voice.  He told me, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do this anymore.  But that’s not for the doc,'” Chopra said of his early discussions with Jon.  “And I said, ‘Oh no, that is for the doc!'”

Chopra ensured Jon that for physical and vocal therapy sessions, it would be solely himself in the room with his camera, not an entire crew.

“This story of the rock star losing his voice was…going to be super raw and whatever the opposite is of [the] rock star [aesthetic],” Chopra said.  “And a lot of that is me holding the camera because you’re just in the back of the car or whatever.”

In addition to the cinema verite footage of Jon learning to get his voice back, Chopra also films Jon’s on-camera interviews discussing the band’s history with the frontman backlit from below, as befits rock royalty—and in counterpoint to the unpolished rawness of the footage of the various medical visits.

Gotham Chopra

“He’s a rock star [so for] the story of becoming a rock star, let’s create that environment,” Chopra said of his artistic choices for filming Jon.  He also praised his cinematographer, Jessica Young, for helping to realize these ideas visually.

In addition to Jon himself, Chopra’s on-camera interviews include current bandmates Tico Torres (drums), David Bryan (keyboards), Hugh McDonald (bass) and Phil X (guitars).  The band members travel back in time to discuss the band’s extraordinary walk from journeyman musicians to global superstars, with Chopra interspersing the 21st century interviews over four episodes with vintage footage of Jon & Co. appearing in hundreds of concerts, interviews, backstage film and various other rare footage from the band’s four decades of rock.

As notable for who is present in the first episode is who is absent.  Original bassist Alec John Such, who left the band in 1994, died in 2022.  Richie Sambora exited the band suddenly in 2013, which left both the group and its fans wounded.  However, Sambora shows up in the series—dramatically entering the interview room at the close of episode 1—to share his side of the story.

Chopra said that whatever bad blood might have existed between them, Jon insisted to the filmmaker there was no way to tell the story of Bon Jovi, the band, without including Sambora.

“I wouldn’t say that they are or were super close over the last ten years, but they are still communicating,” Chopra said.  “I thought it was going to be harder [but] Jon was the one who helped reach out to Richie.”

However, Sambora had a condition for participating: He was in London at the time, so Chopra had to fly to England to film the guitarist at the famous Abbey Road Studios.

“They built this [band that] has its ups and downs, but at the end of [the journey] you’re like, holy shit, this is pretty incredible,” Chopra said.  “[For] Jon and Richie, that doesn’t particularly end great in 2013 when Richie essentially quits the band, but…the end result is that here we are 40 years later.”

Other notables who show up in the series are the band’s former manager, Doc McGhee, as well as Jon’s wife of 35 years, Dorothea.  (The heartbreak of many fans when Jon was officially off the market is covered extensively in episode 3.)

“Thank You, Goodnight” plays as equal parts hagiography and celebration of an iconic band.  Meanwhile, it also follows an aging artist who, due to health issues, may have to hang up the microphone for good.  Chopra said that Jon likened watching the docuseries as perhaps similar to the supposed experience of watching one’s life flash before their eyes at the moment of death—but Jon gets to enjoy the trip while still very much alive.

“I think there are parts that are pretty hard for him to watch, that he doesn’t agree with,” said Chopra.  “And I think that’s a successful documentary, especially when you’re talking about a band.  Yes, it’s Bon Jovi and he’s the frontman, but it’s the story of the band.  The band has different memories and Richie has different memories.  They’re all filtered through the lens of emotions—the good times, the bad times.

“I think Jon is pleased for sure, but I don’t think he loves everything—and I’m glad because I didn’t want to create some vanity piece for him.”

Chopra hopes that, in addition to hard-core Bon Jovi fans, people who may be familiar with Bon Jovi’s music—who may have sung “Livin’ on a Prayer” at karaoke—but are not necessarily intimately knowledgeable about the group will tune in to Hulu to take a four-decade journey alongside the Jersey musicians.

“I think what you see across four episodes is this work ethic.  Jon’s got this archetypal story of growing up in New Jersey, he was the kid who always wanted to be a rock star and mostly everyone told him, ‘Yeah, cool, it’s not going to happen.  You’re talented but not that talented,'” said Chopra.  “And Jon just kind of wills it [and] never had a Plan B.

“When he records what he thinks is a great song, ‘Runaway,’ he sends it to 10 different production companies and record labels and none of them even call him back.  And he’s like,  ‘Cool, I’ll find the 11th place and sneak in the back door.'”

Chopra said he finds Bon Jovi’s epic, nearly half-century story to be incredibly inspiring—and one he hopes his own 16-year-old son takes to heart as he grows into manhood and perhaps, like Jon and the rest of the band, never gives up on his own dreams.

“[Jon] just kind of kept banging away and willed this thing into existence,” he said.  “And to me that’s kind of the secret sauce and the thing that [is] inspiring to me, so hopefully it’s inspiring to others.  I think that is the takeaway.”

Chopra said he has several upcoming sports documentaries in the works, including one about Serena Williams.  However, the experience of making “Thank You, Goodnight” has him hoping to make even more music series going forward as well—especially after the excitement of getting feedback from both Jon and Sambora as they watched working prints of the series.

“To me, from day 1, it was going to be a celebration,” Chopra said.  “Here’s the human story of somebody struggling to get back to the thing they love; here’s the thing they love, and it’s amazing.

“Who knows what the next chapter is in terms of Jon and Richie,” he said.  “They watched some of the rough cuts of the episodes together, they communicate, so they’re in a good place.  It’s a good ending for these guys.”

“Thank You, Goodnight: The Bon Jovi Story” is now available on Hulu. 

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