Critics’ Connection: Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B

Aaliyah Princess of R&B photoLifetime’s original movie, Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B, follows the beautiful and talented performer’s inspirational journey, from her debut on “Star Search” at the age of ten to the challenges she faced during her rise to become the Princess of R&B.  The two-hour movie event stars Alexandra Shipp, Clé Bennett, Rachael Crawford, Anthony Grant, Lyriq Bent, A.J. Saudin, and Elise Neal.  The film is executive produced by Howard Braunstein, Debra Martin Chase and Wendy Williams, and is based on the bestseller Aaliyah: More Than a Woman by former Time Magazine music editor Christopher John Farley.

What the critics are saying about Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B.

The Hollywood Reporter:  Allison Keene’s The Bottom Line states, this potentially controversial production found its premiere date on Lifetime, but the results don’t quite live up to the hype. Though her vocals don’t match Aaliyah’s gorgeous cadence (that would have been too much to ask of anyone), Shipp is beautiful and likable in the role but lacks a necessary magnetism. The same is essentially true for everyone in the production. Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B simmers along pleasantly, but never finds its fire.

Aaliyah wasn’t a spoiled brat or a diva, though, and her mother Diane (Rachael Crawford) was no manager. It’s refreshing to see the two’s close relationship portrayed (and the close relationship of their entire family, as well as Aaliyah’s down-to-earth attitude), but it also doesn’t exactly make for exciting television. Perhaps that’s why the movie spends its first half solidly entrenched with Aaliyah and (R) Kelly’s relationship and the blink-and-you’ll-miss-them nuptials (which the family had annulled), as the only whiff of scandal. She may have been one in a million, but Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B isn’t able to light the fire that shows why her legacy is still burning bright. See full review at The Hollywood Reporter.

The Wrap:  Mekeisha Madden Toby says, Aaliyah fans will forever wonder what could have become of the performer’s life and career had she not died tragically in a plane crash 13 years ago. Much like the 22-year-old’s legacy, the Lifetime movie Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B, is riddled with untapped potential. Instead of digging deep and edifying audiences about segments of the singer and actress’ life that haven’t been covered in a half a dozen music documentaries and specials, the made-for-TV flick premieres Saturday and is serviceable but non-revelatory.

Alexandra Shipp (Drumline: A New Beat and House of Anubis) is winsome in her portrayal of the woman born Aaliyah Haughton and is perfectly believable as an ambitious but introverted tomboy on the verge of international fame and acclaim. Rachael Crawford (The Strain), Sterling Jarvis (Nikita), A. J. Saudin (Degrassi: The Next Generation), and Lyriq Bent (Rookie Blue) also turn in convincing performances as Aaliyah’s mother, father, brother and uncle respectively. All of these actors’ performances are especially profound when one considers the awkward and stunted dialogue they had to work with.

Despite a handful of great performances, this small-screen drama is a forgettable, overly publicized splash in the pan unworthy of the woman it earnestly but clumsily attempts to honor. What a shame. See full review at The Wrap.

Gossip Cop: Shari Weiss wrote, Aaliyah: Princess of R&B, the controversial Lifetime movie, premiered on Saturday night, getting ripped by both critics and fans alike.

The project was under fire almost as soon as it was announced earlier this year. Zendaya was originally cast in the title role, much to the chagrin of fans, but then dropped out, later saying that she was not “morally OK” moving forward with it. She was replaced by Alexandra Shipp, and filming commenced, despite protestations from the late singer’s family, who refused to authorize the film. The messy start helped fuel curiosity, as fans continued to fear the final product would do more to harm Aaliyah’s memory than honor it. Those concerns were seemingly confirmed when reviews started coming over the last few days. The Hollywood Reporter said the biopic “fails to capture the magic of why her legacy is still burning bright,” and The Wrap wrote, “Despite a handful of great performances, this small-screen drama is a forgettable, overly publicized splash in the pan unworthy of the woman it earnestly but clumsily attempts to honor. What a shame.” The New York Times declared, “There may be another way, at some point, to celebrate Aaliyah in film, but ham-handed, underwhelming efforts like this don’t help. Instead of a worthy tribute, this film isn’t much more than an on-screen reflection of behind-the-scenes warring, and a case study in when to cut losses.” And Deadline said, “This is a soulless, aimless look at the life of the singer.”

Those negative comments, however, paled in comparison to the firestorm that erupted during the broadcast on Saturday night. Angry fans took to Twitter while watching to call out casting issues, music choices, and alleged biographical errors. At one point, “#LifetimeDisrespectsAaliyah” was even trending, as well as “#LifetimeBeLike,” a hashtag that was still going strong Sunday morning. See full article at Gossip Cop.

Photo Source: IMDB (Christos Kalohoridis/Lifetime Television).

Note:  The content of this post is adapted from the primary sources as referenced above.  Click on the links to read the original reviews in their entirety.

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