Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B (2014) – Review

1 1/2 Stars

Lifetime network has produced their second musical bio-pic of the year, like the previously released TLC Story, this retelling of majestic R&B singer Aaliyah Haughton is a flimsy piece of patchwork filmmaking. The end product is laughably bad in spots, with no participation from any surviving members of the Haughton family or any professional collaborators, the film is void of her iconic music and insight into the artists motivations. On the positive side, this rekindling of the pubic’s one-time love affair for the beautiful and equally talented singer, should ignite sales of her record catalogue.

Actress Alexandra Shipp plays the lead role, her good-looks and delicate nature are put to good effect in creating a resemblance to the late Aaliyah. The picture begins at a taping of the television show Star Search in 1989. At the time a 10yr old Aaliyah didn’t make the cut and lost to a performer of no consequence, cut to three years later and she is the opening act for Gladys Knight. This coupled with a debut album produced by the (at the time) red-hot recording artist/producer R. Kelly, catapulted the modest female artist into the pop-culture stratosphere. The relationship between producer and talent grows tangled as an emerging affection for one-another turns into a full-blown romance. A brief courtship concludes with the 15yr. old girl eloping with the much older Kelly.

The union is short-lived as Aaliyah’s parents condemn the marriage. This tabloid-esque interlude takes up nearly half-of the film’s running-time and it sheds nothing new on the well-known relationship between man and young teenager. The fallout leads to a serious bout of depression and leaves Aaliyah looking for a new producer to handle her follow-up album. This decision results in a meeting with Virginia based producers Timberland and Missy Elliot. The unproven duo take the opportunity and run, the second record is an even bigger hit, affording the multi-talented singer with the opportunity to make the transition from singer to actress.

The Princess of R&B, jams too much into the third act. A love affair between the gruff head of Rockafella records Damon Dash and the modest, sweet girl from Detroit is condensed to the point of being an afterthought. Thankfully, the picture doesn’t end with a fiery crash, but a semi-tasteful exit between two people who plan on spending a life together, unaware that this would be the last moment shared in person.

It’s unfair to expect a great deal of artistic integrity and accuracy in bio-pics, particularly those shown on Lifetime. This is a project that would have greatly benefited from an A-list adaptation, along the likes of Get on Up, or Jersey Boys. In that event the producers would have been able to secure rights to the one thing Aaliyah is best remembered for; her music. Alexandra Shipp does well with the material at hand, as do actors Clé Bennett and Izaak Smith playing R. Kelly and Timberland, respectively. For those familiar with the story, this retelling will feel out of tune. For those not aware of the late singer’s impact, re-listening to her musical catalogue will convey a clearer picture of the artist than anything presented on-screen.

Director: Bradley Walsh
Stars:Alexandra Shipp, Clé Bennett, Izaak Smith

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