TLC‘s superstardom was pretty transparent — or so we thought. The Atlanta-based trio’s story came to a screeching halt when they lost the “L” in their moniker upon the passing of Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes in 2002. It’s been 11 years since then, and when rumblings that a TLC biopic was in the works emerged last year, every TLC fan rejoiced.
However, it was less about learning the real story of TLC (we got that from Behind The Music) and more about just being able to relive their history. In that respect, VH1′s CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story is a total home run, allowing every TLC fan — from casual listener to zealot — to reminisce over one of the most successful female groups of all time. The downside, though, lies in contriving a happy ending to a story that isn’t even finished yet.The casting of CrazySexyCool is semi-spot on. Drew Sidora rocks a mean T-Boz, Lil Mama nails her role as Left Eye, and Keke Palmer transforms into a capable Chilli. The homework that these three actors did for their respective roles was commendable. Then again, two out of three had the luxury of studying their muses in real time (recent biopics lack that advantage), yet somehow the person without a living counterpart (Lil Mama/Left Eye) was by far the most authentic. Everything was recreated — from album covers, to music videos, songs, performances and interviews — and by the end of the movie when you see the real members of TLC, you almost forget what they actually looked like.
Entry level TLC fans will learn quite a bit from CrazySexyCool. They’ll see how the original “C” in TLC was a girl named Crystal who sang like a dying cat, yet had label connections. When the group first encounters Pebbles (played by Rochelle Aytes) and L.A. Reid (Carl Anthony Payne II), Crystal is immediately booted from the trifecta. On the same day that T-Boz and Left Eye learn that they’re about to be signed, Left Eye’s father is shot and killed. Chilli, a backup dancer for Damian Dame at the time, enters the fold as their third. T-Boz’s friend Dallas Austin (Evan Ross) becomes their producer, falls for Chilli, knocks her up (she gets an abortion) and then cheats on her. Pebbles rakes the group over the coals — from giving them a weekly stipend of $25 to buying them Rav4′s when they went Platinum — all while taking most of their money thanks to the terms and conditions of a recording contract they never actually read in its entirety.
If you think these anecdotes are sensationalized, think again. Like “Baby Baby Baby” says, “it’s actual and it’s factual.” The story touches on T-Boz’s continuous struggle with sickle-cell anemia, and Left Eye’s personal demons are ever-present. The scene where she lights Andre Rison‘s (Rico Ball) home on fire is welcomed, but only because the Rison “character” is absolutely ridiculous (he lures Left Eye to his mansion the night he meets her while he’s wearing a white mink coat and a pimp hat). The fire (pun intended) within each member of TLC is well-preserved and represented. You get a feel for their true personalities and understand that while they came together in the name of music, they really were a little family. The phrase MTB or “Meant To Be” echoes throughout the film, as it’s their original battle cry since their very first performance.
As the story develops, you begin to realize how Left Eye eventually was “over” the spotlight, and her spirituality coupled with her fascination with the cosmos led her in a direction away from “T” and “C.” She was even courted by Master P (a.k.a. Suge Knight) for a solo career right around the time that TLC’s fandom reached mass hysteria. While Ooooooohhh… On the TLC Tip and CrazySexyCool were financial failures (at least for the group, who was yielding about $50k a year), Fanmail was going to be the one that would save them, since they ditched Pebbles (thank goodness) and Left Eye was reluctantly on board. There is a healthy combination of career highlights and personal triumphs (like Chilli having a child, and T-Boz getting pregnant in spite of her illness), and of course the most touching scene is the death of Left Eye (she apparently called her groupmates before heading to Honduras and told them that she loved them). They don’t even really acknowledge the release of 3D, and that’s probably a good thing.
Ten years later in the film, T-Boz and Chilli reunite at the studio. T-Boz shed her tomboy clothes, Chilli doesn’t age. They’re both happy moms. As they enter the booth to record their aptly titled comeback single “Meant To Be,” they become the real remaining members. Polaroids from TLC’s career flash against the screen, and footage from a recent studio session with Ne-Yo closes out the film. Was it the best way to end the biopic? Not at all, but how else could they have possibly closed that chapter in their collective career to open this new one?
CrazySexyCool will have you jumping right into a YouTube rabbit hole to revisit everything you loved about T-Boz, Left Eye and Chilli. You’ll only be treading new territory if you weren’t previously fluent in TLC’s history, but the ride is worth it. This is also perhaps Lil Mama’s breakout role, but only time will tell if she can parlay this into something bigger. As for the real TLC, well, bring on the next phase, ladies.