Aaliyah is one of those singers who defines “Gone Too Soon.” At the time of her untimely death in 2001 at the age of 22, she had achieved so very much, and it seemed as though the sky was the limit for her.
As is the case of any famous person, it is inevitable that a biopic will be considered. However, biopics are a interesting thing. They can be done well. And they can be done horribly. Also, when it comes to comes to biopics, it must be emphasized that one can never please everybody. People will take issue with casting, artistic license, and so on. Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B is one such biopic that failed at its goal.
The film begins with Aaliyah performing “My Funny Valentine” on Star Search at the age of ten, which was her first public performance. She performs with her aunt Gladys Knight (who at the time was married to her uncle Barry Hankerson) She is signed to a record deal, but she is not yet given the chance to prove herself. Eventually, she creates her public persona, and starts recording her first album, Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number with the help of R. Kelly. When R. Kelly gets too close to her, and they get married, despite her being under the age of 18, her parents force Aaliyah to end all contact with him, in both a professional and personal context, and they annul the marriage.
Aaliyah is reluctant to move on with her career without R. Kelly’s influence. But she recognizes her own inner strength. She collaborates with Timbaland and Missy Elliott, who give her second album, One in a Million a new sound. Aaliayah moves on to more things. She sings the song “Journey to the Past” from the movie Anastasia, and when it is nominated for an Academy Award, she performs it at the Oscars.
Aaliyah makes her film debut in Romeo Must Die, and later, she films The Queen of the Damned and releases her third album Also, she becomes close with rapper Damon Dash, and the two become romantically involved. The record label is concerned about the album’s performance, and they suggest that the song “Rock the Boat” be her next single. She goes off to film it in the Bahamas, but not before she and Dash promise to each other, despite their careers, they will find time for each other. There is then a post-script that says that Aaliyah died in a plane crash on the way back to America.
Last summer, Lifetime announced that they were planning a movie about the life and career of Aaliyah; it was called Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B. They cast the actress and singer Zendaya (best known for her role on the Disney Channel sitcom Shake It Up) as Aaliyah. The announcement of the casting received lots of criticism over the casting because many people felt that Zendaya did not look enough like Aaliyah, and that she was too light-skinned to play Aaliyah. Aaliyah’s family, however, asked the public to not attack Zendaya. Also, due to her family disapproving of the production entirely, and due to the fact that they controlled the rights to the majority of her music, Lifetime had to rely on the covers that Aaliyah sang, as well as the original songs that her family did not control. Zendaya would depart from the role, citing the various issues with getting the rights to the music, among other complication of the production, and she was replaced by Alexandra Shipp.
The film finally premiered on November 15, 2014. It was universally panned by critics and viewers.
According to Wikipedia:
Critical reception to Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B has been predominantly negative. The New York Times heavily panned the film, criticizing it as “ham-handed” and “underwhelming” and writing “Condensing the singer’s life into such a short space requires a cruel knife and, in this case, a wildly imprecise one. A good film doesn’t show its seams. This one — based on “Aaliyah: More Than a Woman,” a biography by Christopher John Farley — is mostly seams. Much of the acting has dull edges, and the screenplay is aggravatingly stilted.” The Wall Street Journal also criticized the film, commenting that the “overuse of the three and four-way split screen montages only enhanced the lack of material.”
Viewer reaction for the film has been extremely negative and fans mocked the film on social media sites like Twitter, using the hashtags #LifetimeBiopics and #LifetimeBeLike. Viewers felt that Shipp was miscast as Aaliyah, that the late singer’s controversial relationship with R. Kelly was overly romanticized, and that the music covers did not properly do justice to the original songs. Fans further commented on the film’s casting as a whole and many created pictures that overly exaggerated what they felt was extreme miscasting of many of the celebrities depicted in the film.
All I can say is that, this biopic had numerous problems. In my own words:
Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B is one that fans of the late singer would rather forget. So many things just did not go right.
- Many of the figures in Aaliyah’s life were played by people who hardly even look like them. The actors portraying, R. Kelly, Missy Elliott, and Timbaland, look like fake versions of the the people they are playing.
- Since Aaliyah’s uncle Barry Hankerson owned her now defunct label, Blackground Records, and since he disapproved of the movie from the beginning (along with the rest of Aaliyah’s family), Lifetime did not get the rights to use Aaliyah’s music, and all they could do is use two of her cover songs, and two of her original songs that her family did not own; according to Wikipedia: “Four of her songs (two covers) were used in the film: the Isley Brothers‘ “At Your Best (You Are Love),” Marvin Gaye‘s “Got to Give It Up,” “Journey to the Past” and “The One I Gave My Heart To.” If you do a biopic on a singer, you need to use their songs, and most of Aaliyah’s most famous song such as “Try Again,” “One in a Million,” and “Are You That Somebody?” are completely absent.
- The film is poorly written and put together. There is a lot of telling and too little showing. We are often briefly told things that Aaliyah did, and it seemed like the screenwriter was doing that because of having little to work with.
- The ending is anti-climactic. It shows Aaliyah and her romantic partner, Damon Dash talking about how their careers leave them little time to be together, and they promise to spend more time with each other when Aaliyah returns from filming the music video for “Rock the Boat.” We see her get into a car that drives off into the distance. Then we see words on screen stating that Aaliyah died in a plane crash in the Bahama shortly after filming the video. Seeing that made me feel like this was such a cheap ending. I get that they did not want to depict the plane crash or even have it happen off screen, but it’s not a good ending to show two people making plans for the future, and then be told that one of them would die.