I never thought I would use my blog to write a review about a movie, but this TV One biopic was so incredibly bad that it begs evisceration, dismemberment and marination in sulfuric acid. I broke down my frustration to other viewers who quickly suggested that I put it in my blog. I know I can’t do it like Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert used to, so I’ll just share how and where I felt they dropped the ball. Here goes.
Warning: Obviously, Here Be Spoilers…
The Bobby DeBarge (aka Boring Debacle) Story – My Take On It
First, and most important, many young viewers have no idea who the great R&B singer Bobby DeBarge really is/was, so the verdict I got from many was a “hard pass” on watching this while it was being promoted. I spent many conversations, playing samples of the hits from the Switch and the DeBarge bunch just so they’d know who the movie was about. So there’s that.
Trivia: The group was called “Switch” because of its members’ ability to switch instruments during live performances. This was a gimmick that you rarely, if ever, saw in a live performance. Especially today, considering how few of today’s young artists actually make music.
More Trivia: Switch group percussionist, Phillip Ingram (2nd from the left in the picture below) is the brother of the late James Ingram, R&B Singer.
The first question on everyone’s mind was, “Why him?”
Don’t get me wrong, I truly respected Bobby and his remarkable voice. I was a huge fan of Switch, just as much as DeBarge, but I asked the same question: “Why him and not a story about famous lead and solo singer, El DeBarge? Why not the entire family?” Even though Michael Jackson was the focal point of 1992’s “The Jacksons: An American Dream”, they took time to develop the characters of as many family members as possible. This way you could sincerely sympathize with the family during their trials. This way you could feel the impact of the physical abuse from their father, educational challenges amidst the travel and late night gigs, internal strife of family separation by marriage and solo projects, among other moments. The DeBarge family, from what we learned watching the TVOne show “Unsung” (one special on The DeBarges and another on Switch), each had a compelling story that should have been shared.
No mention of the family’s conversion from their gospel roots. The only reference we got was their mother’s constant tributes to God for all of their good fortune. Without that, they could very well have been atheists for all we knew. No, their church beginnings are not vital components of the story, but there was a significant transition that could have been mentioned and honored.
Growing up the product of an interracial marriage, light skin and beauty. I can think of many people that fall into that category who will admit that growing up like that was difficult in their neighborhoods. The DeBarges have shared the challenges that being light-skinned presented, growing up. I’m sure this could have been touched on because it’s a notable issue in the Black community.
Physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Again, family members shared the horrors of these events on “Unsung”. It was tastefully addressed in the biopic, but summarily strewn in in such a way that the movie lost continuity in my opinion. I feel that if you include a plot twist or climactic event, it should be used to bring clarity and resolution to the tension and/or long-term issues featured throughout the movie. It ended up being more of a “matter of fact” moment.
Oh by the way, it’s been revealed that the police were called repeatedly about the abuse. However since their father was white, their mother was suspected and dismissed/ignored as an antagonist of sorts and conclusively considered the reason for the incidents. The timeliness of sharing something like that? During the #MeToo movement and concerns of (much of) law enforcement’s treatment of African Americans? Blown opportunity.
An equally impactful episode (in reality) is the fateful moment when sister Bunny called their uncles, who reportedly showed up and viciously beat their father for his treatment of the children and their mother. I don’t know the whole story, but if ever there is a “full crowd applause” moment, that’s the one! You don’t have to be gratuitous with violence, but let’s see folks “laying hands” on this monster. No mention at all in the movie. Imagine how that would have supported and strengthened the opening scene where he (father) entered the hospital, walking past his troubled and bitter children. Swing and a miss. *sigh*
Ok, so you might say that all of this takes time and wouldn’t fit in a two-hour movie. If you’re going to do a biopic, do it right. I realize that there are budgetary constraints, but if you instead, bill this as a “DeBarge (family) Story” and include scenes of triumph and tragedy in the trailer (along with a few of their many recognizable R&B hits), you should be able to secure enough viewers to justify a two-night, four-hour production that would allow ample time to progress the tale adequately. Again, I loved Bobby, but this story was much bigger than him.
And just how DO they introduce him? Well, early in the movie we get a glimpse of Bobby, high on cocaine, prancing about the hotel lobby in “diva mode” during a morning meeting with his brother Tommy, group founder Gregory Williams and their manager. The whole affair was hilariously reminiscent of David Ruffin’s “Ain’t nobody comin’ to see you, OTIS!” scene in the Temptations 1998 biopic.
But that’s it. No real indication of his or the group’s level of stardom. Other than a snippet from a concert, a Soul Train appearance (did they use the same background for both scenes?) and incidents of their frustrations with Bobby’s antics and the inclusion of his siblings to the music business, that’s it. We “switch” to DeBarge, the new musical success.
Now that I think about it, I shouldn’t say “success” because by this production, we have ZERO idea how well they actually did in the music industry. No mention of chart toppers, videos (or the lack thereof since “Rhythm Of The Night” was the only released video between the two groups). No hotel room-destroying antics, drug addictions and the siblings’ jealousy of lead singer El as he quickly rose to fame within the ranks and eventually went solo. There was even a point where he (El) was called in for a studio session to record without the rest of the family because they were reportedly “high” during scheduled recording times.
They had ample opportunities to illustrate how Bobby (and Tommy) dealt with falling from the limelight as their brothers’ and sister’s fame escalated. Considering how little the creators actually highlighted in the movie, it could easily have been infused into a second night.
The lip-syncing and acting was flat-out atrocious. I’m sorry, but Bobby’s bursts of fury were more like bouts of “funny”. The passion and anger were overboard and laughable at best. And about the lip-syncing – I’ll give them a pass since so few of their combined classics were shared in the limited presentation. Then again, if you’re only doing one or two songs, you have plenty of time to lock down any attempts at lip-syncing.
So many phenomenal group and solo products were kept from us loyal fans, along with any potentially new ones. I don’t want to keep comparing biopics, but “The New Edition Story” introduced an entirely new generation to music that was over 30 years old and groups that many teens hadn’t heard of. Since its release, my kids’ friends have asked me for more and more of New Edition / Bobby Brown / BBD for their listening pleasure. I think so little thought was given to the demographics of the viewing audience.
Question: Who the hell selected those God-awful wigs?
Question: Big Boi as Berry Gordy?!? WTH?
Question: Did anybody figure out who the remaining DeBarge siblings were, other than by supposed similarity in appearance?
Question: How did Bobby acquire HIV? Well, that’s something you often never know, but at least give us moments of conjecture. The biopic, “Straight Outta Compton” led us to believe that Eazy-E got it from the intentional poke of a contaminated syringe. Here, you don’t even get any references to his alleged sexuality, which many believe to have been the reason.
Random Scene: James DeBarge – “Marry me, Janet (Jackson)!”
…Well, did she? Hmmm (many know, many don’t)
And let’s not forget the “Oh No!” moment when Bobby used brother Chico as his drug mule, which lead to his capture at the airport terminal for drug trafficking. There was a brief moment of questioning, then Chico’s arrest, but that’s all we got. The subsequent scene showed the raid at Bobby’s house and his arrest but that was it. Chico went to prison for 5 years but unless you hear it from me or research it, you have no idea. There was no mention of his fate, just Bobby’s time behind bars.
Finally, the death scene. Oh my GOD! They failed to develop his character, thus preventing viewers from truly feeling the depth of his passing. And you honestly didn’t really see that happen (his death). We saw him collapse on the bed, then the camera choppily bounced back and forth between frantic family members while a scene of him singing a heartfelt ballad played in the background. Back and forth we went until the camera finally closed in and focused on his wife, crying as the credits bluntly appeared, accompanying her continuing teardrops.
Who in the hell conceptualized this? If anything felt amputated, it was this ending. I’m not a director, but I know that a final song tugs at your heartstrings more efficiently if you include a montage of beautiful scenes from early beginnings to the present (case in point, The Temptations, TLC, New Edition, Jacksons, etc.). They haphazardly included a few scenes with his wife, but these scenes happened so quickly during the movie that it felt like less of a flashback to a powerful moment and more like a quick peak at a few photos from yesteryear. Why not ditch the questionable death and show a final conversation and loving hug from family members before fading out to a message like “Bobby DeBarge passed away on August 16, 1995”? If doing a “DeBarge” movie, said scene could have been used as a heartbreaking climactic point towards a triumphant end (New Edition and the Jacksons ended with reunion performances to lighten the mood and provide a sense of peaceful reflection – great formula).
It just felt so rushed and incomplete to me.
Since the viewers never truly got to know and love Bobby, I doubt it was easy for them to empathize with the family and mourn accordingly.
There’s so much more that I have and want to say, but you get the gist. I just find it immensely upsetting and disappointing that we got more out of the two Unsung specials than an actual movie dedicated to his (and their) careers. And what’s worse, the producers HAD facts, provided by family members and STILL failed to get it right.
Unlike the title of the timeless DeBarge classic, “I Like It”, sadly, I didn’t…
“Bobby DeBarge” bobble-headingly DeBunked it and gets a bubbly D-Minus from me.
Bobby, Bunny, El and the rest of the family deserved better. So much better.
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