This past week, faith has been restored in BET. Those that known me for a while and follow my posts and writings know how I feel about BET. However they did the New Edition story and it was surprisingly a slam dunk. The story was well-written, cast, produced and portrayed. They left out many things, but told a good story and gave older audiences plenty of nostalgia and introduced NE to a newer audience. All of this was accomplished without cooning or making it ghetto. Fine job to the entire network and producers.
Now BET, and other biopic producers, need to realize what can happen when you dedicate the proper time and have the right people around you. You get a quality product that folks will want to view over and over.
Some ingredients in making a good musical biopic are adding little known facts and tidbits about the artist/group that even diehard fans didn't know about. Also, you have to cast quality performers, dancers and actors. Jamie Foxx was perfect for Ray, and Leon seems to be able to play in any musical role (Eddie Kane, David Ruffin, Little Richard). Also, make the movie the right length. Finally give unknown actors a chance and splice in some legends to help out. It also helps to have the proper network if it's on TV and determine if it should be in theaters or not.
That being said, I'm not quite ready to anoint The New Edition Story into my top 5 musical biopics yet. It definitely doesn't top the Five Heartbeats and that was fictional. Here are my top 5 musical biopics.
5. Straight Outta Compton
Despite flaws with the storyline and casting, the overall music, performance and storylines were crisp. Ice Cube's son, O'Shea Jackson Jr., was perfect to play his father. The actor that played Dr. Dre was good as well. It also revealed how intelligent Cube and Dre really are, writing and producing many songs for their group and others (Dre's rep as a producer is undeniable).
4. Walk The Line
Some that don't follow country may see this as a white Ray. However, it was also well cast, showed Johnny Cash's troubles from childhood on. It also showed how it can it be as a musician to marry into a musical family and still strive. Reese Witherspoon definitely earned her role for playing June Carter Cash.
This movie may have honestly been higher outside of the length. It's honestly a classic, containing many of the ingredients listed above. Also, Jamie Foxx put in so much work with Ray Charles before he passed to nail that role. There are things left out and fabricated but it was still a winner and an inspiration.
2. The Jacksons: An American Dream.
My mom and I have watched this so much we have every line memorized. Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs and the gorgeous Angela Bassett played Joe and Kate almost to perfection. Jason Weaver as young Michael was a reach but he pulled it off. A young Terence Howard playing Jackie and Billy Dee Williams as Berry Gordy were definitely winners also. This was part of the blueprint for the New Edition story in my opinion. However you can't forget #1.
1. The Temptations
This has long been a debate at cookouts, family reunions and barbershops which is better: The Five Heartbeats or The Temptations. I give the edge to this movie for the authenticity. It's real and it really dug into the lives of all of the Temptations, especially Otis and David Ruffin. They possessed every successful element necessary for a biopic. There was even enough drama and tragedy for a great story. The movie is long, about 4 hours, but few I know care. It's that type of a show. It also did what the Jackson movie didn't do, went inside the intense quality control process that Motown had. Berry Gordy adopted this from his days with Ford Motors and, well, it appeared to work. He wanted them not only to be the best black group, but the best group period. They crossed over well despite drama and changing group members. Definitely the gold standard for biopics.
So now you the reader may still be consumed with New Edition mania as if Bobby Brown and Ralph just performed in your living room. But keep things in perspective and remember the movies that paved the way.