One of my 8th grade girls is exceptional. She stands out from her peers because she's so smart and capable. But not just that, she acts on her potential. But she's quiet. And when I first met her, I thought she was quiet because she's shy -- and she is a little. But as I've gotten to know her, I've realized her quiet is more about taking in her surroundings. She's learned to be wary of most things so she's constantly reading and re-reading situations. Assessing how much of herself she can be in any given situation.
This year she's one of my student council members. In fact, she has a special designation even within the student council group. As such, she gets to spend the end of the day in my office helping us with stuff. An office assistant, basically. We didn't have anything for them to do today, so I spent some time talking to them. We got on the topic of what makes a good counselor and she shared that she's never felt comfortable talking to a counselor. Her reasons for why were many. Basically a combo of not trusting and adults not understanding.
As I kept asking questions to probe her thoughts on this, she started sharing bits of herself with me. But she was doing it as she was also telling me she didn't like to talk about herself with adults or people she (essentially) hasn't vetted. In the same conversation where she told me she doesn't trust anyone and doesn't have trusted adults in her life, she told me all about the friends she has who she doesn't trust. She told me about familial issues. She told me about feeling mistreated because her Nigerian aunts don't like her American mother. She even told me she doesn't say "I love you" or "I'm sorry" because she thinks they don't mean anything anymore.
I toyed with the idea of pointing all of this out to her, but I was enjoying watching her open up so I didn't. It was evident to me that while she was telling me she holds everything in, she was EAGER to get it all out. Apparently it was easier for her to feel like she was holding on to bits and pieces while she shared bits and pieces. Once she got started, though, she really couldn't stop. Another, much more vocal and verbal, student kept trying to share his experiences, but the rush of being able to share hers, wouldn't let her stop long enough for him, even with his overbearing ways, to get a word in edgewise.
I recognized what was happening to her because it's happened to me. That moment where you feel like you can finally let some stuff go in a safe space. It'll come tumbling out and you can't stop it. It just feels good to let it go. And you know, I was reminded today (not that I need a reminder) why I do what I do. For moments like those. Where a student is holding on so tightly to her identity as a put together on the outside, but falling a part on the inside individual all the while letting you see pieces of the broken parts.
She didn't show me everything. She may never show me everything. But the fact that she felt like she could do with me what she never does with anyone else... I did something right.
24 hours ago the first airing of TLC's biopic finished airing on VH1 and -- I watched most of it again as the super TLC fan (aka stan) that I am. I let it all marinate over night and I have some thoughts to share...
I think it'll be easiest to talk about the movie in terms of its' casting, pacing and how well it got the facts right.
I didn't hear ANYBODY say that they thought the casting was good, when the three women chosen to portray Tionne, Lisa and Chilli were first announced. In fact, what I saw a lot of was "who the hell is Drew Sidora?" and "can Lil' Mama even act?" and "Keke Palmer looks nothing like Chilli!"
Interestingly, though, after the movie premiered in NYC and bloggers and other journalists got their hands on advance copies of the movie, I heard a different tune. Some freely admitted they were unsure of the casting but that after seeing the movie they changed their minds. Others pretended to have had no preconceived notions and only praised the film and its actors.
I'll certainly freely admit that when I saw the cast, I had my doubts. I expected that if Lil' Mama could act, even a little bit, she'd make a great Lisa. I had all the eye rolls and heavy sighs for Keke Palmer who said in one interview that she'd always been told she looked like Chilli and I wished to see how much makeup they planned to slap on Drew to lighten her skin enough.
Now that I've seen the film, I'm singing a bit of a different tune. Lil' Mama was good. She can act and she did Left-Eye justice given what she had to work with. Of the three, I think she did the best job in her portrayal. Keke actually does look like Chilli from some angles. She had the body and the "sexy" part down pretty pat. Her dancing was adequate. There wasn't too much to complain about. Drew -- well, I think Drew had the hardest row to hoe. Not to suggest that the other two could've been portrayed by just anybody, but Tionne -- she requires a certain savoir flair... Drew had moments where she seemed to truly channel the boss (T-Boz means "Tionne is the boss") but she had just as many where I didn't know who she was supposed to be, exactly.
I'll speak to pacing in just a moment, but it (and the editing, I'm sure) certainly effected the actors' abilities to do their characters justice. The ladies have always had great charisma and been very charming and funny, especially when with each other and especially in the group's early years. I didn't see that from these actresses -- I didn't feel like these were my BFFs in my head (as I do whenever I watch a TLC interview, even now). I felt like they all got along, but I didn't feel like they had spark between them or took on that ride-or-die mentality that TLC talks about.
There were certainly high points, though. Keke Palmer did Chilli's abortion storyline justice. I think she conveyed those feelings of loss and anger very well. Drew Sidora didn't get a lot of screen time to develop Tionne's story past her sickle cell, but her hospital scenes were gut-wrenching. Especially the first. Lil' Mama had a lot of scene stealing moments. Her charisma and her ball of light was very evident in almost every scene, including the ones where we saw them audition for Pebbles the first time. This says a lot of Lil' Mama's talent. The other two ladies had the advantage of spending time with the women they were portraying. Lil' Mama had to figure hers out on her own.
However, aside from the ladies -- the rest of the casting felt off. Pebbles is the exception to that. Rochelle Aytes was a great Pebbles, I thought. But Carl Anthony Payne as LA Reid was awkward and some of the other castings were just... did you see the guy who played Puff Daddy? Probably outweighs Sean Combs by 100 lbs, easy. The guy who plays Mack 10? He probably underweighs the real Mack 10 (at the time he was portraying him) by 100 lbs. And let's don't even discuss Evan Ross as Dallas Austin, except to say Evan Ross probably comes up to Dallas Austin's chest. Seems like they got the ladies casted and said "whoever can work can have the rest of the parts."
This is probably my biggest sore point with the movie. It should've been a 4 hours, 2-part miniseries like all the great biopics. The Jackson 5: An American Dream and The Temptations were both 2 parters. Cramming 20 years into 2.5 hrs require that a whole lot of things get left out or smashed together.
It all started off pretty well. I felt like we were getting to know the ladies. Lisa's dad gets killed off in the first 10 - 15 minutes and we meet and then lose Crystal Jones in almost the very same scene. But once they hit the Fanmail era, the movie seems to hit warp speed. Tionne meets Mack 10, Chilli gets pregnant, has a baby and Tionne also gets pregnant, while they find a new manager and Lisa begins to take trips to Honduras, all seemingly in the same 15 minutes. You can barely keep track of what's happening with one storyline before the next one hits a bump and gets all crazy.
I was especially upset with the fly-through of Lisa's funeral. I know that's a fine line to walk. We don't want to make it a dog and pony show and we know what funerals are like, but who spoke? What was said? Who showed up? We got no glimpse and what we did see we already knew. Tionne and Chilli cried through the whole thing.
The pacing also hurt character development. We see Chilli's mom all of twice, but she's clearly been a huge part of Chilli's life. Same for T-Boz's mom. The pacing also causes the film to fail to help us understand certain plot points. For example, Lisa drinks through the whole movie. Almost from the first time we see her, she's drinking. A cursory TLC fan is probably aware that, at minimum, Lisa had an unhealthy relationship with alcohol -- but for as many times as we see her drink and we see Tionne frustrated by it, we never address it head on. What did the other two really think of it? How did the diversion center help or not help? If I weren't a TLC fan, would I really have caught that Lisa had a drinking issue from the movie? I'm not sure -- which is my point overall.
There as also Lisa wishing the other two listened to her ideas more. She mentions wanting to do futuristic things in the early part of the film, and then again when she argues against Creep as a single. Later we hear Chilli remark "we're finally doing her futuristic stuff and where the hell is she?" The pacing made it hard to keep up and understand if you didn't already know what was going to happen or what the issues were.
However, the pacing did get it right early in the film, as I mentioned. Especially around the development of Perri "Pebbles" Reid. I think some people criticize the film for spending too much time on Pebbles and how she did the girls dirty, but I argue they probably didn't spend enough time. We see the tricks she employed to keep them in the dark about their contracts as well as the tricks she used to, in a sense, cheat them out of their money. All of that is important to the story and good pacing helped bring it out.
If you follow me on twitter -- for the hour I did get to tweet, I dropped as many TLC fact gems as I could. I knew the movie would take some artistic license, and the script writer was quick to make sure everyone knew the difference between a biopic and a documentary. Overall, the facts were pretty on (all things considered). They dramatized some things of course and skated over others as necessary.
There were little things like -- Larry. I'm convinced -- and unless Tionne or Chilli themselves tell me otherwise, this will be my opinion -- Larry was meant to represent Sean Newman. I remember when Lisa first started dating Sean. I found any picture of them together. My favorite entertainer and a fine ass man? No issue from me. But I don't recall ever hearing Sean Newman was married. Larry is though. That's the artistic license at work, and that's fine. (there is, of course, the chance that I'm just wrong, either about it being Sean or about Sean not being married, but this is my post so I"m right).
Where the facts really got iffy for me was less in actual truthiness and more in the omission of certain things. Going back to the pacing, they rushed Lisa's storyline of feeling like her group didn't listen to her. As I mentioned earlier, there were 3 references to Lisa wanting to do more futuristic type things. One occurs on the set of the Creep video. It is true that Lisa wanted to film her portions of the video with tape covering her mouth and it is true that she didn't like Creep as not only the lead single, but a single at all. What isn't shown (and to me is an issue of fact) is that Lisa disagreed with the message of Creep altogether. She recorded a rap to be added to the remixes of Creep that preaches the exact OPPOSITE message of the original song. She may have wanted to do something more futuristic, but she wanted it done to something other than Creep.
And what about poor Crystal Jones? We didn't even get to see them kick her out of her own group. At least not the way it actually happened...
But they did get some facts really right. Like with Pebbles. I know some think they made her look like a terrible person for no reason, but one thing I've never seen or heard is Pebbles deny that she had them sign contracts that put them at a serious disadvantage. She's sued and she's whined and she's made excuses but I've never heard her out and out deny it. Them facts is facts, period.
I could go on and on and on -- and I have already. Overall, I give the movie a 7.5/10. Not too shabby, but could've been better. If VH1 releases it on DVD, I want the director's cut, with all extended and deleted scenes, plus behind the scenes, interviews and makings of the MTB single as special features. That's a MUST for my collection.