On October 21st, VH1 finally premiered the highly publicized and anticipated TLC biopic “CrazySexyCool: A TLC Story.” Being one of the biggest fans of the group there is, I was SO excited to hear about it. I know just about everything there is to know about each TLC member and their personal struggles, so the idea of seeing it play out in cinematic format had me on the edge of my seat…at least initially.
There was much promise upon the beginning of the film, leading right before Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins and Lisa “Left-Eye” Lopes got discovered, signed and moved through the process of finding a new member (which ended up being Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas; more on that in a moment) and recording their 1st album. The 150 minute (including commercials) movie was great for those who didn’t know TLC’s back story and it gave a little insight on the climate of the music industry at that time. The performances from lead actresses Drew Sidora (T-Boz), Lil’ Mama (Left-Eye) and Keke Palmer (Chilli) were surprisingly good (with Lil’ Mama shining through as the best actress of the film), in addition to Rochelle Aytes, who portrayed the group’s 1st manager, Perri “Pebbles” Reid.
The movie was a great summary of the ladies’ perils and triumphs as one the best-selling female groups of all time, however, my qualm as a fan was the fact it was just that—a summary. Its brevity of their most successful album eras (i.e. “Crazy.Sexy.Cool” and “FanMail”) and over-magnification of somewhat interesting, yet trivial conflicts made the movie come off as a dramatized, cliff-notes version of “Behind the Music” (TLC’s “Behind the Music” debatably did more in 1 hour than this film did in 2 and 1/2 ). It ultimately left certain facts seem more elusive and not clarified, than express the whole truth for what it was.
Firstly, the movie was extremely biased. In Left-Eye’s absence, T-Boz and Chilli were the ones who constructed and pitched the TLC story to VH1 script-writers, and that, ironically, was probably more of a minus than a plus because aspects of their background were told from a limited perspective and presented as truth without further explanation. For example, the firing of Crystal Jones (the original “C” in TLC) was attributed in the film to her inability to sing/perform in front of L.A. Reid and Pebbles during an audition. However, according to Jones, the reality was since she was the original lead of the group (she called auditions to form a group to begin with), Pebbles privately presented her with the contract first and when Jones insisted on showing the contract to her mother for further review, Pebbles later encouraged T-Boz and Left-Eye to oust her. To put it in perspective, if Jones was such a poor performer, how did she get the chance to exclusively audition for her own group before introducing the group to Arista Records/Pebbletone? How did the group record demos under the name of 2nd Nature with producers like Jermaine Dupri if she was so terrible? Maybe T-Boz got the impression that Jones’ singing was to blame because that’s what she was told or maybe there was an instance where Jones bombed a performance. Jones’ story wasn’t the only one that fell prey to the limited perspective.
One of the biggest pitfalls of the biopic is that the entire first hour was stuck within the year of 1991. We didn’t even see them celebrate going platinum from the first album until the second hour emerged, and seeing as how TLC had an 11 year career span and 4 albums, you can only imagine how condensed their career would seem on screen given the remaining time. Granted, a lot transpired in their inaugural year (ex. the death of Lopes’ father and Thomas’ abortion), but some points were simply stretched for no reason, like the over-abundance of “player” scenes where Dallas Austin (played by Evan Ross) flirted with various women while being entangled with Thomas. Some of those scenes could’ve been replaced with the supporting information that Thomas was dealing with Austin’s crap because she trying to fill the void of a male figure in her life (Thomas’ father walked out on her family; her meeting her dad was filmed in 1996 on the “Sally Jessie Raphael Show”). What might have been considered minutiae could’ve helped the movie be more thorough and equally informative and emotional (I’ll get to the emotion, or lack thereof).
Creative specifics were missing just as much as the intimate ones, which was my other issue with the script’s focus. This is a history-making group and the audience wasn’t given much insight as to why, in terms of artistry. We didn’t get any behind-the-scenes moments on the creation of the albums or TLC’s signature sound. When TLC was in their infancy as 2nd Nature, T-Boz sang in her high/middle voice, until singing a low harmony for a demo with Jermaine Dupri. Dupri loved the texture and quality behind it and basically told Watkins “you should sing like this all the time.” Left-Eye came up with every album title from first to last, stage designs for tours and even their clothing styles. Chilli and T-Boz came up with choreography because the label didn’t get them a choreographer (they made the dance moves to “Waterfalls” on set in like 5 minutes because the director decided last minute that they should do choreography). Some inferences regarding creativity were inaccurate, such as the implication that the ladies came up with the premise of the song “Creep” because they were all being cheated on at the time. Austin wrote the song (shade?) and Lopes disagreed with the message of it (which was said in a passing scene; her rap for the “Creep” remix also indicated this). TLC had an opportunity to give a modern, up-to-date portrayal of the music industry and shed light on the “politics” they’ve commented on in interviews, but instead, they tried to go the more melodramatic route. The melodrama was inevitable and it would’ve been more hard-hitting, had they stuck to telling more of their story. This leads me to my last point.
All in all, the movie was decent, enjoyable and somewhat informative for those new to the history, but it left out plenty of important details to bring it full circle. Sadly, those details 15 years from now will not be questioned, but taken as truth: Crystal had no talent, Lisa was a narcissistic drunk with an attitude problem, Chilli had no real backbone regarding men and T-Boz lacked emotion, even in a hospital bed. If “The Legacy Continues” with those half-truths and omissions seen as fact, then it probably won’t be continued for the right reasons.
Left-Eye expressing she couldn't stand behind the "Fanmail" project:
"Hot" from Left Eye's solo album ("See what happened with Scrubs on my records deserve answers"):
"I Believe in Me" from Lisa's solo album:
("When the group had issues, I laid in thought
Corrected the bad news, I heard in interviews
How many of you really know Lisa? Not many!
It's not contrary, it's fear, I don't know you either
I'm responsible for more than you'll ever know or see
So many things you don't know happened because of me
From Blaque, to the designs of the stage, that was me
So how could any of ya'll be mad at me?")