Film Review: Britney Ever After (dir by Leslie Libman) #FreeBritney


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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.

#FreeBitney!

 

 

Guilty Pleasure No. 31: Hail, Caesar! (dir by the Coen Brothers)


Sometimes, I wonder if I was the only filmgoer who actually enjoyed Hail, Caesar! when it was released in February.

Oh, don’t met wrong.  I know that I’m being a bit overdramatic when I say that.  It got some good reviews from the critics, though the praise was rather muted when compared to the reviews that traditionally greet the latest film from the Coen Brothers.  I know more than a few people who have agreed with me that Hail, Caesar! was an entertaining lark of a film.

But I know a lot more people who absolutely hated Hail, Caesar!  Of course, no film is going to please everyone and the Coen Brothers have always had a tendency to attempt to deliberately alienate their audience.  But what has always struck me is the fact that the people who disliked Hail, Caesar seem to really, really dislike it.  Talk to them and you get the feeling that they view Hail, Caesar as almost being some sort of a crime against both humanity and cinema.

Taking place in a stylized Hollywood in 1951, Hail, Caesar! tells the story of Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin).  Eddie is a shadowy figure.  As head of production at Capitol Pictures, Eddie’s job is to keep the “bad” behavior of the stars from getting out into the press.  (The press is represented by Tilda Swinton who, in a typical Coen Brothers twist, plays twin sisters who are rival gossip columnists.  If the thought of that makes you smile, you are potentially a part of the right audience for Hail Caesar.  If it makes you roll your eyes, you should probably avoid the film.)  Eddie is the most powerful man in Hollywood and he will do anything to protect the image of the American film industry.  He will lie.  He will cheat.  He will threaten.  He is so ruthless and so good at his job that even Lockheed Martin is trying to hire him away from Capitol.  And yet, at the same time, Eddie is also a family man and a Catholic who is so devout that he goes to confession on a nearly hourly basis.

(For all you non-Catholics out there, Pope Francis only goes to confession twice a month.)

Hail, Caesar! follows Eddie as he deals with a series of potential problems.  Temperamental director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) is upset because he’s been forced to cast Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich, giving the film’s best performance), a good-natured but inarticulate cowboy star, in his sophisticated comedy.  Synchronized swimmer DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansoon) is not only pregnant but unmarried as well!  (It’s the 50s, remember.)

However, the biggest crisis is that Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) has vanished from the set of his latest film. A mysterious group known as The Future has taken credit for kidnapping him.  It’s not really much of a spoiler to reveal that The Future is a cell of communist scriptwriters and they are determined to convert the rather dumb Baird to the struggle.  As opposed to most films about Hollywood in the 50s, the communist screenwriters are portrayed as being a bunch of self-righteous and rather cowardly nags, the majority of whom spend more time debating minutiae than actually trying to the overthrow capitalism.  In many ways, Hail, Caesar is the anti-Trumbo.

As you might guess from the plot description, there’s a lot going on in Hail, Caesar but none of it really adds up too much.  Nor is it supposed to.  We’re encouraged to laugh at these frantic characters, as opposed to sympathize with them.  Eddie Mannix and Hobie Doyle both emerge as heroes because they’re the only characters who remain calm and confident, regardless of what strangeness is happening onscreen.  Eddie may be ruthless, the film tells us, but at least he gets results.  Hobie may not be the smartest or most talented guy in Hollywood, we are told, but at least he doesn’t pretend to be anything other than who he is.

Hail, Caesar! is a bit of a lark, a celebration of style over substance.  As far as Coen Brother films go, Hail, Caesar has more in common with Burn After Reading than No Country For Old Men.  The film is largely an inside joke aimed at people who know the history of Hollywood, which is perhaps why some viewers reacted so negatively.  Inside jokes are fun when you’re in on the joke.  When you’re not in on it, though, they’re just annoying.

As for me, I thoroughly enjoyed Hail, Caesar!  It may not be the Coens at their best but it’s a lot of fun and it appealed me as both a history nerd and a lover of old movies.  The best parts of Hail, Caesar! are the scenes that parody the largely forgotten, big-budget studio productions of the 1950s.  This is the rare film that acknowledges that not every film made before the 1960s was a masterpiece.  The Coens love movies but that doesn’t keep them from getting a little bit snarky.  For example, check out this production number featuring Channing Tatum:

Is Hail, Caesar self-indulgent?

Yes.

Is it largely an inside joke?

Yes.

Did I absolutely adore it?

You better believe I did.

Hail,_Caesar!_Teaser_poster

Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan
  29. On the Line
  30. Wolfen