By Paul de Revere
In a moment of narration during Crazy Sexy Cool: The TLC Story— VH1’s much-touted TLC biopic that premiered Monday night (October 21)– Drew Sidora as Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins points out the blurring of “the lines that separated our music and personal lives.” And just as TLC’s career went, so did the movie that detailed it, blurring lines between what was fictionalized and what was real footage.
Clips from TLC appearances at the MTV Video Music Awards and GRAMMYs interweave with dramatized versions of ’90s music news to the point where it could be hard to tell the difference if you looked away from The TLC Story for a second. Sometimes, the difference was obvious, even from the film’s first scenes. Do the Instagram-glossy “home movies” of Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes (played by rapper Lil’ Mama, a spitfire actress) seem so authentic as to look like file footage? No. But does T-Boz’s dance off at famed ’90s Atlanta club Jellybeans feel authentic? Absolutely.
At moments, the movie must’ve felt like being through the looking glass for T-Boz and Rozanda “Chilli” Thomas (played by Keke Palmer). They produced and, evidently, had a spiritual hand guiding The TLC Story. Alongside director Charles Stone III they made sure no detail of the movie was overlooked. The TLC live sets are on point and the choreography tight. Screenwriter Kate Lanier, writer of the 1996 cult hit Set It Off, wrote dialogue so lived-in it felt like the movie’s actresses were improvising. The “Creep” video-shoot scene, with its members bickering about creative direction, features a spirited back and forth among the three actresses.
And it’s they– Sidora as T-Boz, Lil’ Mama as Left Eye and Palmer and Chilli– and the crew who recreated the TLC looks and eras (styling, makeup, continuity, props departments) who really shine. The I-can’t-believe-we-wore-that ’80 and ’90s fashions are pitch-perfect. The baggy fashions at the outset of the movie that over the years cling closer to the TLC ladies, just as their fame, business practices and at-times strained relationships do.
True to life or not, dramatic pivots in the lives of T-Boz, Left Eye and Chili’s lives are smushed together hurriedly. Lopes receiving her tragic news the day TLC is signed to a major label comes too soon for any serious emotional impact. The scenes of Chilli’s unplanned pregnancy and subsequent abortion would’ve benefitted from more time to explore the psychology of that, as hard and unfit for basic cable as that would likely be. Palmer’s whine of “Forgive me” as the blue surgical sheet is drawn over her is heartbreaking enough.