Blallywood Film Review: CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story
I learned something this week. TLC is the second highest grossing female girl group in history, sandwiched by Spice Girls at number one and Destiny’s Child at number three. Without critical thought or genuine care to research it, I assumed (perhaps like most of you) that Destiny’s Child was on top. They certainly have more mainstream appeal, in my opinion. But, I was wrong and a bit delighted to learn that I was wrong. I love a good underdog story.
The TLC biopic premiered to much anticipation on VH1. Particularly, us 80s kids were anxious to see how the cast would fare at capturing the iconic personalities of the trio. The film stars Drew Sidora as Tionne Watkins (T-Boz), Lil Mama as Lisa Lopes (Left Eye), and Keke Palmer as Rozanda Thomas (Chilli). We meet the girls just at the cusp of being discovered and the film credits Tionne as the main spearhead having had a distant connection to Pebbles (played by Rochelle Aytes) , wife of LA Reid of LaFace Records. Their first few years are depicted as a whirlwind of success characterized by endless rehearsing, artistic differences, and contract confusion. They were selling millions but reduced to a $25 per week stipend and studio and tour costs were deducted from their portion of record sales. The ordeal was largely glazed over, with the exception of one powerful radio interview scene in which Left Eye breaks down the fiasco with lyric-like clarity delivered by Lil Mama. They eventually rid themselves of Pebbles and move on to tour independently with LaFace, only to still be nickeled and dimed by the label. They finally break ties completely and produce FanMail with Dallas Austin to critical acclaim. Along the journey, we see their romantic relationships unfold (all pretty ugly), including when Left Eye infamously burned down Atlanta Falcons’ Andre Rison’s mansion. The momentum slows a bit during Left Eye’s soul-searching trip to Honduras and when we later learn of her death. The resolution leaves much to be desired, though the ending sequence is nice as we see the real T-Boz and Chilli with Ne-Yo in the studio laying down vocals for a cute new song.
Overall, what makes this film work is its attention to the value of nostalgia. It brilliantly recaptures and recreates many memorable moments in TLC’s history. One standout moment is an entire remake of the music video for Waterfalls and the candid footage of the group on tour with MC Hammer and on the CrazySexyCool tour. This is probably when the portrayals are most believable. Sidora, Lil Mama, and Palmer are great in interview scenes and musical numbers. You will certainly spend the better part of the next day downloading TLC songs or watching their videos on Youtube. Overall, however, they struggle with the more intimate and personal sides of their characters. The most authentic of the three is Lil Mama as Left Eye. There’s a really nice ease about her on screen- she’s charming, and manages to find the humor in this broken young woman. She masterfully delivers Left Eye’s speech cadences and nasal quality and her physicality feels authentic and believable. She also shows a nice bit of range in the emotional scenes. Lil Mama could probably hire a theatrical agent and start forging a career in film if she wanted. Her debut is that solid.
Where the film falters, however, is pacing. The pacing is much too quick through important moments. The issues involving their relationship with Pebbles are left cinematically unresolved. Pebbles just disappears. They seem to sever ties with very little consequence which is both strange and unbelievable. In fact, they seem to suffer very few consequences overall that compel the audience to give a damn. The contract issues are unfortunate, but not really enough for us to care. They should have had proper representation and parental support, but they didn’t. They fall for quintessential deadbeats when blinded by bling, so it’s easy to see that the relationship will end in strife and disappointment. Most of their issues seem to be their own fault. The film makes a lame attempt to vilify the people around them, without just cause. The film isn’t introspective enough and it doesn’t seem to express any genuine sense of accountability on the part of any of the girls. And there is nothing redeeming about the story, they experience each disappointment, each frustration, each bit of drama without learning anything and when Left Eye dies, T-Boz and Chilli are left completely frozen and helpless. We never see them fight for anything. The storyline is trite and portrays the three as helpless victims of circumstance instead of strong-willed survivors.
I found this surprising, considering Kate Lanier wrote the screenplay. Lanier is the genius behind What’s Love Got to Do with It, a film that boils with heinous domestic violence and tragedy but manages to soar and express a rich survival ethic and triumph that is jubilant and memorable. Of course that was with the sublime casting of Angela Bassett, who could literally recite the alphabet and move me to tears.
With CrazySexyCool, it almost feels like T-Boz and Chilli had an agenda to set the record straight, instead of telling a great story. It’s fantastic that T-Boz and Chilli finally got a chance to do just that. Assuming, it’s the truth, this is an occasion to congratulate them. However, I just don’t think it’s interesting enough. C-.