Earlier tonight, I watched the latest Lifetime celebrity biopic, Britney Ever After.
Ever since that ill-fated Aaliyah movie, Lifetime biopics have had a reputation for being hot messes and I’m sure that a lot of people will say the same thing about Britney Ever After. Britney Ever After is about Britney Spears, following her from her first tour with *NSYNC through her relationship with Justin Timberlake through her marriages to both Jason Alexander and Kevin Federline and finally concluding with her well-publicized breakdown in 2008. As usually seems to happen with these biopics, the whole story is framed by interviews with a documentary crew. From what I saw, the twitter reaction was pretty savage and I’m sure that there will be all sorts of snarky reviews tomorrow.
But you know what?
As far as Lifetime celebrity biopics go, Britney Ever After was not that bad.
It suffered from some obvious problems. Since neither Britney nor her management had anything to do with the making of the film, none of Britney’s original music was heard. That means there was no Oops! I did it again! There was no Baby One More Time. No Toxic. No If U Seek Amy. There was no Work Bitch, which incidentally is both the greatest song that Britney’s ever done and my favorite song to sing while stuck in traffic. I think it was mentioned, at one point, that Britney was working on a song called Womanizer but I may have misheard. When the actress playing Britney sang, it was only to cover songs by other artists. In the film, Britney performed I Love Rock and Roll and a bit of Walking After Midnight.
For what I presume are legal reasons, the film had to be circumspect. Yes, Justin Timberlake (played by Nathan Keyes) was a character in the movie but he was portrayed so blandly that he could have been any hyperactive teenager with good hair. Jason Allen Alexander (Kelly McCabe) shows up just long enough to marry Britney and then be told that the marriage is going to be annulled. Amazingly, Britney’s entire marriage to Kevin Federline (Clayton Chitty) takes place over less than 10 minutes of screen time. Adnan Ghalib (Serge Jaswal) and Sam Lufti (Benjamin Arce) get more attention that Kevin but both of them are portrayed so negatively that they probably wish they hadn’t.
(Adnan and Sam both made the mistake of testifying about Britney in court, meaning that their douchebaggery was a part of the public record and free for Britney Ever After to portray.)
As for Britney’s “rivalry” with Christina Aguilera (which, early in their careers, pretty much defined both of their public personas), it goes unmentioned. Christina is only briefly seen in a long shot. For those of you hoping for any details about the dark side of life at the Mickey Mouse Club, Britney Ever After is not for you. Really, the film’s main problem was one of logistics. Britney Ever After had only 90 minutes to tell the story of a very dramatic and complicated life. If the film felt rushed, that’s because it had a lot to show and not much time to do it.
But, even with all that in mind, Britney Ever After was not the disaster that some seem to believe that it was. In the role of Britney, Natasha Bassett did far better than I was expecting. There were some issues, of course. Her attempt to duplicate Britney’s Southern accent led to her sounding more like Jessica Simpson than Britney Spears. During the film’s early scenes, she seemed almost too innocent to be believed but it quickly became apparent that this was intentional on the film’s part. One of the themes running through the film was how Britney’s image was continually shaped by her parents, her management, and her boyfriends. In the end, Britney is portrayed as having no control over her own life. When Britney suffers a break down in 2007, she’s at least trying to live her own life. When everyone around her panics, are they concerned about her health or are they concerned about her image and their investment in her career? This unanswered question hangs over the final 30 minutes of Britney Ever After. If Natasha Bassett never quite seemed to be Britney, she was still very believable as a character living the exact same life and dealing with the exact same issues.
Plus, there was an enjoyably silly scene where Britney ran into Justin in a club and they had an epic dance off. If only all relationship issues could be solved by a dance off!
That said, I was a bit disappointed that, at no point, was Crossroads mentioned.
(Seriously, a Britney movie with no mention of Crossroads!?)
But give the film some credit. It did a good job of capturing the suffocating experience of being hounded by paparazzi. And the film was even-handed and compassionate when it came to portraying Britney’s 2007 breakdown. Like Britney, I’m bipolar and I’ve always felt that I could understand what she was going through while the rest of the world was finding so much entertainment in her very public struggle. Since 2008, Britney’s father has had conservatorship over her life and control of all of her assets. For nearly ten years, Britney Spears has not been allowed to stand on her own and has essentially made a lot of money for everyone but her. During the documentary segments that provide a wrap-around to the film’s story, Britney Ever After obliquely hints at this sad reality. In those sequences, there’s a sadness to Bassett’s performance, an acknowledgement that Britney has paid a price for public stability.
Britney Ever After was on Britney’s side, which is more than can be said of many other biopics.