Love to Love You, Donna Summer

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Donna Summer is the Queen of Disco. “Hey, it’s nice to be the queen of something,” she remarked, even though she never fully embraced the title. Dance may have been the style for which she was best known, but she covered so much more than that. Rock, Pop, R&B, even Inspirational, winning five Grammys in four different categories. She was a superstar unlike any other. Despite all her accomplishments, Love to Love You, Donna Summer is not a documentary content to assert Donna’s place in music history.

This is a fresh perspective from those closest to her. Brooklyn Sudano is on a mission to shine a light on what made her mother tick. She co-directs with Oscar winner Roger Ross Williams (documentary short Music by Prudence). They assemble a personal portrait from unreleased home movies, photographs, and interviews. We learn the singer struggled with both sexual and physical abuse, suicidal thoughts, and motherhood as she rose to stardom.

Hearing people speak about the woman they knew is invaluable information for any fan. Brooklyn persuades various family members to open up. These include Donna’s siblings, husband, singer-songwriter Bruce Sudano, and daughters Amanda Sudano and Mimi Sommer (with first husband, Helmuth Sommer). Even ex-boyfriend Peter Muhldorfer briefly appears to express regret over his abusive behavior. Donna is heard from as well. One quibble, though. Subjects often speak in voiceover narration, so it’s occasionally difficult to tell the difference between newly recorded interviews and archival footage.

Donna Summer was, by all accounts, a private woman. Fans were shocked when she passed away from lung cancer in 2012 at age 63. The singer did not reveal her diagnosis or treatment to anyone but family and doctors. But then again, the dichotomy between her public and private persona had always been a study of contrasts. “Love to Love You Baby” was an iconic 1975 hit. It lends the title to this biography. That revolutionary single was a loop of undulating sighs and moans in sexual ecstasy over a backing track produced by Pete Bellotte and co-written with Giorgio Moroder. The full 16:50 minute version on the album was edited down into a 4:57 single that kickstarted her career. That record was a far cry from the woman who grew up singing in church and later became a born-again Christian. This account acknowledges that 1979 announcement was made at the peak of her fame. It alienated some supporters. Controversial statements allegedly made at a 1983 concert in Atlantic City are also addressed and then refuted.

This is not a portrait for people unfamiliar with Donna Summer’s hallowed place in music history. As an admirer, I was hoping for a deeper dive into her achievements. There’s some concert footage, but the inspiration and creation that went into those songs is rarely discussed. Giorgio Moroder receives 5 minutes. He and other key figures, like Casablanca Records co-founder Neil Bogart, and producer Pete Bellotte, get short shrift. Songwriter Paul Jabara, who penned “Last Dance” and “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough),” is never mentioned.

Still, it’s hard to quibble with spending 107 minutes with one of the greatest singers who ever lived. “Review the movie for what it is and not what you want it to be.” Viewers do get to hear some of her most influential tunes. “I remember when ‘I Feel Love’ came on at Studio 54, you just stopped in your tracks, you thought, what is this?” narrates Elton John. Yet this is less about the music and more about the woman. Peer behind the curtain of a performer that was a bit of an enigma then…and remains a mystery today.

Love to Love You, Donna Summer is available to stream now on HBO and Max.


2 Responses to “Love to Love You, Donna Summer”

  1. As a fan. This look into her private life was enough for me. She juggles many awful things with many good things. By the end she was at peace. Her daughter did a good job with the footage and info she had. 4 ⭐️

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agree that Brooklyn Sudano did well with a difficult task. It’s not easy to put together a documentary about someone you were so close to, especially an account that does reveal some difficult times.


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