This stand-up-and-cheer documentary lovingly embraces fans of the DJ scene and Chris Villa while quite effectively wooing the rest of us.
If there’s one recommendation I could make to all serious movie lovers, it would be to regularly watch a film that falls outside of your typical viewing wheelhouse. Let a friend pick a film for you and watch it without argument. Randomly select a movie on a streaming platform. Or use an app like Queue to help you find something off the beaten path.
One of the reasons I love film festivals so much is that I tend to go in blind for most films — no trailers, no marketing, and typically only the briefest synopsis.
With so little to go on, I end up taking risks on films I might have otherwise avoided. I don’t give my inner critic a chance to form any preconceived ideas about what I’m about to watch, and the result is, more often than not, absolutely thrilling.
I can’t begin to tell you how many incredible films I’ve seen that I never planned on seeing. Judging a book by its cover is hard; judging a film by its synopsis is infinitely harder. Sometimes it pays to take a leap of faith.
When I was sent a request to review One for All: The DJ Chris Villa Story, I almost passed. It just didn’t sound like a film I would dig, and the subject matter didn’t jump off the page for me. Words like “uplifting” and “inspirational” don’t usually appeal to me. I’m more of a “bleak, haunting, horrific, psychologically devastating” kind of girl.
I’m also, in full disclosure, far from a DJ superfan. I love music, and I appreciate artistry and creativity in all its forms. But I don’t follow the scene and couldn’t tell you who any of the known names are.
So, yeah, a nearly two-hour documentary on a popular DJ isn’t exactly tailor-made for someone like me; I’m not the core demographic.
I tell you all this to say that I watched this film with zero expectations or genuine interest — and it blew me away.
Watching a film you’re pre-disposed to love and enjoying the hell out of it is one thing (like any A24 arthouse horror film for me). Watching a film you normally wouldn’t give a damn about and chomping at the bit to sing its praises? That’s something else entirely.
Perhaps One for All is so effective because the filmmaker, Jeremy A. Lopez, is just like most of us. He didn’t make this film because he was passionate about the art of DJing. He didn’t have a favorite DJ, he didn’t understand the culture, and he couldn’t rattle off the names of the nation’s most elite stars in the industry.
He went to high school with Chris Villa, though the two never ran in the same circles and certainly weren’t pals. But he did have five sisters about the same age as the five Villa brothers.
As he watched Villa’s rising career from the sidelines, seeing his star grow as he built a substantial following, he decided to reach out to him about shooting a straightforward documentary about Villa’s humble beginnings and success as a professional DJ.
Lopez planned to follow Villa at a few of his gigs and make a film that would cater to his fans and fellow DJs.
What he wasn’t prepared for was how the story would unfold in late 2018.
Less than a week after Lopez and his crew began shooting, Villa got picked as one of six finalists in the Red Bull 3Style World Championship, which is described in the documentary as the Olympics of DJing.
While the first half hour of the documentary focuses heavily on Villa’s family, his home life, and the pursuit of his passion from a young age, the last hour and a half focus almost entirely on Lopez’s preparation for and participation in the massive career-defining competition.
But let’s rewind for a bit because that first half-hour is damn compelling.
Right from the start, Chris Villa is not who or what you expect him to be.
How often do we make assumptions about a person based on what they do for a living? What comes to mind when I say someone is an accountant, a car salesman, a lawyer, a CEO, a model, a professional skateboarder, or… a DJ?
Regarding the latter, you no doubt conjured up images of a hard-partying wild child who enjoys late nights, loose women, and libations by the pint.
But Villa is as polar opposite of that stereotype as anyone you will ever meet.
Married to his unbelievably supportive high school sweetheart, this father of two is mild-mannered, soft-spoken, humble, and very much devoted to his family. He comes from a large, loving family (sadly, his mom passed away from cancer after a long-fought battle, and the scenes where he and his dad talk about her are absolutely shattering).
He talks about DJing for the right reasons and being truly passionate about the art — not looking cool or getting girls. He says things like, “I just love my kids. It’s not just all about me; it’s about setting a good example.”
His wife adores him and trusts him unconditionally; he’s never given her a reason not to. His dad couldn’t be prouder. Fellow DJs in the community like and respect him.
Villa is virtually impossible not to root for, even if you secretly wish he had at least one glaring flaw.
He seems a little too perfect, but he’s far too charming and sincere to begrudge him a single moment of happiness or well-deserved, hard-earned success.
Thus, when the film switches gears and follows his journey leading up to the Championship, you’re fully invested and on the edge of your seat, hoping he can pull off a victory.
As we build up to the final showstopping hour, the film intercuts between Villa’s preparation for the competition and more interviews with Villa, his dad, and his wife. Every minute you spend with Villa and his remarkable support network is guaranteed to make you love him more.
The final hour of the film is the competition itself, and it’s absolutely riveting.
As I mentioned earlier, I had no reason to think I’d love it as much as I did. An hour of watching people DJ definitely didn’t sound like my idea of a good time. But, my god, was I wrong.
It was thrilling, heart-pounding, foot-tapping fun with infectious kinetic energy and a soundtrack that goes relentlessly hard.
Each DJ is allowed a 15-minute set, where they are judged on originality, music selection, technical skills, and crowd response. We get segments from each of the competitors. But Lopez wisely lets us sit in on Villa’s entire set.
If you didn’t have an appreciation for the level of skill involved in DJing before watching this film, I’d be shocked if you didn’t have it by the end of this film.
The intensity of the performance is impressive. And it is just that, a performance. I had not realized how much style and showmanship went into this art.
Watching Villa whip the crowd into an absolute frenzy was intoxicating.
I went into this film thinking that its runtime would be a detriment. Unless you’re crazy passionate about DJing or a Chris Villa super fan, I couldn’t imagine there would be enough to hold the attention of the casual viewer.
Yet, I could have easily watched two hours straight of just Chris mixing and scratching and spinning sweet tunes. I even hit Spotify as soon as the film ended to see if I could download some of his sets. Sadly, I came up empty-handed. But could somebody please make this happen?I’d pay good money for the ONE FOR ALL: THE DJ CHRIS VILLA STORY soundtrack. On vinyl? Yes, please! Click To Tweet
I think the decision to have much of the documentary focus on the music itself was a wise one. Though, I should caution that it might not be as enjoyable for people who aren’t as into the sound. I personally found myself wanting to jump up and start dancing during the sets, throwing my hands in the air and waving ‘em like I just didn’t care.
Still, I recognize your mileage may vary, and I don’t think this will be everyone’s cup of tea.
With that said, it’s a cup I hope you’ll consider drinking from, even if it doesn’t immediately sound super enticing. I ended up having the best time with it, and I’m so happy I ignored my gut reaction and took a chance on it.
I don’t think you must care about DJ culture to get something powerful out of this film. Ultimately, it’s about passion, dedication, and the uncompromising commitment to what you love — whether that be work, your career, your art, or the dreams you’re chasing. If you can relate to that kind of fiery spirit, you can relate to Villa.
One for All: The DJ Chris Villa Story was emotional, inspirational, eye-opening, and exhilarating. It made me want to stand up and cheer. And never have I wanted the good guy to finish first more in my life.