I definitely listen to more Pebbles than TLC in 2013. The beloved girl group took over my developing years, oversaturated the radio, and wore me the hell out. Plus, I really only love their first two albums, Ooooooohhh... On the TLC Tip and CrazySexyCool. Still, I was super hype to see VH1 and the surviving members share their version of this phenomenon known as TLC and the trip down memory lane was quite a ride.
CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story definitely plays like a VH1 film, with amazingly accurate reproductions of the popular music videos going into each commercial break. If nothing else, this was worth the two and a half hours. Who doesn’t remember all the words to Left Eye’s verse in Waterfalls? Good stuff.
The pace moves quickly with the group meeting, replacing a member (Chilli filling the slot) and signing away their lives to Pebbles all before the first break. They should have shown how Left Eye used to sleep at Jermaine Dupri’s house in those pre-deal days without his mother’s knowledge to incorporate more of burgeoning Atlanta at that time than just LaFace and Pebbitone.
Pebbles (Rochelle Aytes) comes across very one-dimensional, almost cartoonish in her villainy. It feels like a child’s perspective in relaying a story of her wicked step sister. Perhaps that says much about the emotional immaturity of the girls.
The relationship troubles that the girls endured continue to promote their relatability. With Chilli’s near obsession with the man-whore Dallas Austin (a forgettable Evan Ross) and Left-Eye's fiery relationship with flamboyant Falcon Andre Rison (Rico Ball), the film showed the flaws of regular girls. I would have liked if they highlighted that Dalvin was Mr. Dalvin of Jodeci and hired an actor even half as fine.
But that's just me, though.
Left-eye's resistance about the direction of TLC’s music and image was foreshadowed and played well by rapper Lil Mama. She effectively captured the spirit of Lisa, but she looked like her ugly older sister, to be honest. A large part of Left-Eyes appeal was her beauty, and no makeup artist can recreate that. Her creativity and intellect also weren’t highlighted, as she was written as a kind of flighty cartoon character, when it’s clear the real airheads have always been Chilli and T-Boz. They did include the information about Left Eye’s experimental album Supernova that may just have been ahead of its time. Another listen in 2013 will determine that. Inserting Dr. Sebi was appreciated for those in the know.
With all the uproar for casting Keke Palmer, she proved the naysayers wrong by turning in a great performance as the no-nonsense Chilli. I definitely didn’t like how they categorized her as pretty one, because I was always a T-Boz fan, but I get it. Also, allowing the film to show her abortion was empowering as their message of safe sex continues 20 years later.
I am not familiar with Drew Sidora’s previous work, but she did an apt job for the first two-thirds of the film before auditioning for a role as Beyonce in the next VH1 biopic. Not sure why she started channeling Queen Bey, but she definitely did it well!
The film wasn’t very clear on how TLC got out of their contract after creating this monstrous image of Pebbles, and the hands off L.A. Reid (Carl Anthony Payne II looking good!). It would have done them well to not portray themselves as victims and own up to the fact that they were negligent in the business side of show business.
For those of us who watched Left Eye’s Honduran documentary, that scene in CrazySexyCool felt very flat. Not that I wanted to recall the last shot of her in the car as she met her death, nor the eerie circumstances surrounding her trip, but this was a scene akin to Selena’s final moments in the Jennifer Lopez film. I understand the pain associated with tragedy, but it could have had more grit. Definitely not satisfying.
After Left Eye’s passing, the film turned into a long commercial for their greatest hits album, 20, complete with montage of the real Tionne and Rozanda and new song Meant to Be the phrase repeated throughout the film. That left a bad taste in my mouth, but I know they have to eat, too.
All in all, it was a nice film to revisit an era of music and pop culture that shaped a generation and in generating interest in the girl group who set records, broke barriers. I’m sure Pandora and Spotify will get many TLC spins this week and I’ll entertain it for a bit before turning back to Pebbles for that grown woman sound.
Grade: A- for the feel goodedness
Monique A. Williams is an author, student and mother living in Brooklyn. Currently, she is developing a social platform for the best in urban television and web originals. You can find out more about her at www.itsmomowilly.com