“Dirty South. Can’t Y’all Really feel. East Coast feel me. West Coast. feel me…..” The repetitive lines repeat warming the listener up for the strong, yet exquisite vocals of a young R&B goddess. The rugged beat bounces and blends into the delightful coos of the singer. Three kids are puzzled over the name of this hypnotic tune. “It’s called “Ahh, ahhh,” a little girl says thinking it’s the occasional baby sounds in the background. “No that’s not the name,” her older cousin counters. The little girl is stubborn about the name but is also enamored by the beautiful woman on the screen. She radiates a sexy confidence even in her slightly tomboyish clothing. Mystery and beauty intertwine through her rhythmic dancing and movement. While also watching the images on the screen, they try to figure out the name of the song but retreat due to the infectious beat. After a few days, the older cousin announces the name. “It’s called “Are You That Somebody?”
Years later, the song still has it’s own little place in this writer’s musical heart. Aaliyah was an embodiment of someone I wanted to be like. Her music kept my ears happy and her spirit was a role model for who I wanted to become. Every Aaliyah fan would think whoever would make her biopic would do it justice. Unfortunately, many were extremely disappointed when their eyes peeped “Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B.” It seemed to take an arm and a leg to even get this movie on the air, but it was for a good reason. Aaliyah’s family held an embargo on her musical content to save for the opportunity for her legacy to shine on the big screen. But Lifetime wanted dibs on this “princess” even if they didn’t highlight what truly made her royalty.
For one thing, most of the actors looked nothing like the people they were portraying. R. Kelly looked more like Joe, her brother was a Drake look-a-like (It’s ironic that the actor plays in the new Degrassi episodes) and don’t get me started on Timbaland and Missy Elliot. At least the actress (Alexandra Shipp) playing Aaliyah did resemble her a bit. Unfortunately, another aspect that sent this film to the movie dump was the acting. It didn’t feel real. The lines felt cheesy like an after school special fresh from the 50s. Stay tuned for the plastic smile; *ding.* There was no emotion. More intensity could have been felt from cardboard (no not really, but you get my point.)
It’s strange to feel no emotion from a movie portraying a woman who had such passion penetrating from her music. Her versatile sound, the compounding element that catapulted her to being one of the most influential women in R&B, was not even in the movie. All we got to hear was a bunch of covers but nothing originally from her. Lifetime couldn’t get their hands on her music, but seriously why even bother if it can’t be heard. I wanted them to take us back; a good biopic should send its viewers on a musical time machine to hear and embrace the magic of what made the artist so incredible. I was waiting to feel that magic again. Imagine expecting a sweet slice of cake and instead getting a slice of stale bread; watch this movie and you will get the same feeling.
Something about the film just doesn’t connect. It feels more like an after school special with the inspirational quotes thrown in than a visual display of a real R&B princess. However, we see how much of a business savvy woman Aaliyah was. She knew she had to be original rather than just being another ordinary singer. She took risks by being herself in her loose fitting, yet sexy clothing and choosing to work with Tim and Missy. One thing I did admire about this movie was seeing just how much control and success she had in molding the path in her career.
“Princess,” however, just dances along some of the most important aspects of what made her Aaliyah. Minutes of puzzlement filled my room at the completion of the film. It was good to see her find love again with Damon Dash. But the words they exchange the last time they see each other was the epitome of cheesy. And then that was it. They could of at least showed the reaction of the millions of fans who mourned her passing. It would have been a better way to end the movie instead of “Well she died…..The End.”
A confused little girl once, I am there again at the lack of effort presented in the Lifetime film. My earliest memory of her was ignored from a collection of clips that may have been hastily thrown together to make a movie. For years, fans have been expecting an incredible piece of art to represent the princess that was Aaliyah. Instead of a masterpiece, we got a film that was just another film. Royalty was robbed from this movie, but this isn’t it for the possibilities of keeping her beautiful aura alive. Through her fans’ continuous love for this R&B princess and the incredible wonders she left on this Earth, Aaliyah will eternally be a musical legend.