SXSW Review: The Boy Band Con: The Lou Pearlman Story

Some stories come along that appear unbelievable to even the people who lived through it. Director Aaron Kunkel‘s documentary The Boy Band Con: The Lou Pearlman Story — produced by Lance Bass — is one such moment. Told in jaw-dropping fashion, the documentary follows the famed musical talent scout and crook from humble beginnings, to startling heights, to the Harvey Weinstein/Bernie Madoff figure he would ultimately become.

Kunkel’s documentary opens with Pearlman’s former artists reminiscing on theirs and the mogul’s careers. Figures like Lance Bass, Johnny Wright, Chris Kirkpatrick, Aaron Carter, AJ McLean, Ashley Parker Angel, J.C. Chasez, and Nikki Deloach all speak on record to share what made Pearlman so “successful” and what drew them to him.

Growing up as overweight, and what many would consider a nerd, Pearlman was always on the outside looking in. In Mitchell Gardens, a neighborhood in Queens, he only had one friend (Alan Gross). Known to stretch the truth, few of his peers believed him. In fact, Pearlman was known for outright making up stories. And boy, does he create some whoppers: from how he made a corporate newspaper route to why he bought his first blimp. The last man anyone would assume to be associated with a boy band, when he grew up he began commercializing blimps (one of the first to do), then invested in luxury planes for the rich and famous, then transitioned to music when he saw how much New Kids on the Block were making.

His decision to become a discoverer and “nurturer” of bands led to, quite possibly, the largest bubble in musical history. It also led to one of the biggest ponzi schemes as well.

Kunkel takes us on this wild ride, which begins on a micro level, by first focusing on the story we’re all aware of: The defrauding of NSYNC and The Backstreet Boys. However, The Lou Pearlman Story takes a complete 180 when Kunkel transitions to the macro. We find that no only do we have a crooked manager, we have a Bernie Madoff level financial cheat, and a Harvey Weinstein-esque predator and power hungry monster.

The Lou Pearlman Story‘s most compelling statement comes in the myriad of people Pearlman was and the various ways he’s viewed today by the people he’s most hurt. To the old couples who were defrauded in his schemes, he’s a devil. To the parents — Dianna Bass and Lynn Harless (Justin Timberlake’s mother) who were interviewed for the film, he’s unforgivable. To Nikki Deloach, he’s a deviant or worse (probably worse). Nevertheless, Lance Bass is somewhat understanding, while Aaron Carter is still a full-blown devotee. Each person witnessed the multiple ways Pearlman could be lovable, jovial, cruel, and cold.

In short, Kunkel gives a full and humanistic portrait to a person who seemed to be pure evil to many. Pearlman was human, with flaws and moments of questionable character and morals, but moments of goodness as well. We may never know who the real Lou Pearlman was, but Kunkel gets pretty damn close.

An official selection of SXSW 2019

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