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CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story

Paramount // Unrated // October 21, 2014
List Price: $16.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted November 22, 2014 | E-mail the Author
Starting in the early '90s and continuing for more than a decade, TLC was one of the R&B / pop world's biggest acts. The three women, Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins, Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes, and Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas, were a true rags to riches story, plucked from obscurity to become gold, platinum, and even diamond-selling artists...without so much of the "riches", having signed unusually restrictive contracts that gave their record label the vast majority of the profit. TLC made no bones about the way they were being treated, but their comments came at a time the group was experiencing internal friction. It looked as if Left Eye was going to embark on a solo career on the side, but before she could finish recording her second solo album, she was killed in a car crash in Honduras in 2002. The other two members performed a number of tributes to their fallen bandmate before retreating from the limelight, again for more than a decade, but now the pair are back, and part of their return is CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story, a VH1 original movie about their rise to fame.

The film stars Drew Sidora as T-Boz, Niatia "Lil' Mama" Kirkland as Left Eye, and Keke Palmer as Chilli, picking up before the trio had even met and carrying through to the present day. The film touches on their whirlwind experience being signed and then going on tour for the first time, T-Boz's struggle with sickle cell anemia, a number of bad boyfriends (including Left Eye's relationship with Atlanta Falcons' player Andre Rison, played by Rico Ball, which became infamous when she set fire to a tub full of shoes and accidentally burned down his house), their numerous disputes with the record company over getting paid, and Left Eye's increasing desire to go and do her own thing. Director Charles Stone III (Drumline) utilizes lots of archive footage from the band's music videos, MTV and news reports with new footage of his actors cut in.

As with most biopics, the teleplay by Kate Lanier has a tendency toward armchair psychology to explain the motivations and desires of its characters, mostly through a clanging voice-over that tells the viewer how the characters feel instead of letting the actors express it. Details that complicate the story, such as the fact that T-Boz and Left Eye signed their contracts at a different time than Chilli, or that Left Eye continued to date Rison after the house fire, are conveniently sanded away in an effort to streamline the story. Most of these details aren't necessary, but there's a distinct ring of dramatic artificiality to many of the confrontations and big moments in the film. Despite all the hardships the three girls endure, it often seems as if everything kinda goes smoothly, since they overcome each obstacle eventually.

That said, Stone captures the thrill of seeing the trio, plucked from obscurity in Georgia to living their artistic dream, as well as their friendship and the way it develops and changes over the years. Through little more but wardrobe and the cast's performances, the film illustrates their transformation from rebellious teenagers into battle-worn adults, sinking into adulthood with the knowledge that they weathered a storm together. Much of the film is made up of "camcorder" footage of the gang goofing off in the studio, and the film's dramatic momentum begins to take hold as they confront their original manager, Pebbles (Rochelle Aytes) about seeing their contracts. The film doesn't shy away from the times when there was tension between the band members, but it remains as positive as possible, coming back around to the fact that they need to support each other if nobody else is going to.

Stone goes a little heavy on TLC iconography, with long concert sequences, and recreated music videos practically shown in full. He also relies a little too heavily on the presence of a random DJ who happens to be talking about whatever new thing TLC has just done or is about to do whenever he needs a transition and some exposition, setting a bit of explanatory narration over stock footage of LA traffic. Throughout, all three leads turn in strong performances, impressing more in the quiet moments (T-Boz's struggle with her illness, Lisa's introspective videos from her time in Honduras, Chilli's desire to be a mother and decision to leave the father of her child). The film concludes with an appearance by the real Watkins and Thomas, who pop into the studio to record a new song. It's a neat bow for a fairly generic TV movie, but there's a warmth to the whole thing that's hard to deny. It's conflicting: on one hand, having a cheesy TV biopic feels like a right of way for many rock stars, yet on the other, it feels like such a unique group deserved a more unique movie.

Paramount's home video release uses an image of the trio in their outfits from the "No Scrubs" video, over a new illustrated backdrop. Each of the three actors gets their own special credit, and the title is emblazoned across the top. The back goes with a bold red-and-black color scheme and features a few images of the women from the making of other iconic videos. One quibble: the rear artwork lists a running time of 144 minutes, when what it means is 1 hour and 44 minutes.

The Video and Audio
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, CrazySexyCool generally looks decent. Director Charles Stone incorporates as much authentic footage he can before cutting in close to his actors, so the quality of the film footage can fluctuate wildly from shot to shot as he segues from original music video footage to material filmed for the movie. Some banding is present and the image has a bit of standard-definition softness to it, but colors are nicely saturated and in close-ups there's some fine detail. Sound is a Dolby Digital 5.1 track that doesn't get many opportunities to show off outside of the film's musical sequences, where new, updated mixes of TLC's hits are reproduced with a modern polish. The rest of the film mostly consists of dialogue scenes with little to no background noise, which unfortunately adds to the film's low-budget feeling. Sadly, no subtitles are included on the disc, although there are captions for those whose TVs offer the option.

The Extras
The main extra on the disc is "TLC: In Their Own Words" (27:34), which seems as if it's a previously produced TV special of some kind but may have been created just for this DVD. Here, you'll get a more authentic version of TLC's rise to fame, told through extensive archival clips of the band's many filmed interview segments.

Two other featurettes are included that focus on the movie itself. "The TLC Story" (5:02) talks about the adaptation of the story, explaining how everyone (including Watkins and Thomas) felt it was important to reveal their side of things people may have just heard second-hand, or on MTV News. This is followed by a series of "Cast Interviews" (6:16), where the three actors talk about learning about what TLC went through and trying to bring those details to the screen. All three also speak about how much TLC meant to them, and what it was like to try and embody their heroes on screen.

Ultimately, CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story is fine. It's not a classic, but it's the kind of film that will probably play mostly to the converted. The moments of authenticity that Stone and his cast manage to capture are ultimately more memorable than the film's generic structure is frustrating. The disc comes with a really nice half-hour special, as well. For TLC fans, recommended.

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