After the runaway success of BET’s rapturously received three-night miniseries The New Edition Story, about the ‘80s boy band as famous for its battles with management, its record label, and among its members as for its musical output, it was inevitable that similar treatments of other legendary musicians would be swiftly greenlighted, and right on time, here comes The Bobby Brown Story to pick up right where The New Edition Story left off.
After leaving New Edition for reasons that are not discussed — the movie assumes that you saw The New Edition Story — Bobby hits the ground running with a solo career, quickly enlisting his big brother Tommy (Mekhi Phifer) to become his manager, while working to fulfill his artistic vision of combining the rough, raw hip-hop beats of the time with his smooth vocal style, an approach that led him to work with multiple producers (L.A. Reid and Babyface for the ballads, Terry Riley for the bangers) and quickly led to his two career-defining hits “My Prerogative” and “Every Little Step.”
We also get a look at Brown’s instinct for generating publicity and excitement, as he’s told by Georgia police that any simulated sex moves during his concert will lead to his immediate arrest; he of course immediately does exactly that, and is gleefully hauled into custody, MTV News segments dancing in his head.
Of course, Bobby’s artistic vision also included bedding as many women as humanly possible, and he hits the ground running in that respect as well, with three children by two different women in short order, a down-low romance with Janet Jackson, who was cheating on her secret fiance, and of course, his volatile relationship with Whitney Houston.
Woody McClain, who won rave reviews for playing teenage Bobby in The New Edition Story returns here in the title role, and despite the fact that he looks a lot more like Dr. Dre than Bobby Brown, he does a good job evoking Brown’s combination of charisma and confidence, while also hinting at the underlying insecurity that fueled his rise to become one of the top R&B stars of the ‘80s and ‘90s.
Ascendant star Lil Rel Howery, who turned heads in Get Out and has an eponymous sitcom coming on FOX, helps to inject a little bit of levity into things as Brown’s manager, Brian — he gets off a few great ad-libbed jokes, one in particular about Bobby’s questionable fashion sense.
As with The New Edition Story, the subject of the film is also a producer, so while we hit all the notes of Bobby’s chaotic career and his increasingly turbulent personal life — those streams cross when we get a glimpse of him having it on with three different in his trailer, waiting to shoot his Ghostbusters II cameo, while an assistant tries to write the lyrics for his soundtrack contribution — there may also be a hint of sugarcoating: though Bobby’s drug problems are dutifully depicted (it’s The Bobby Brown Story, after all) the first time we see or hear anything about cocaine is when Bobby catches Whitney doing bumps in the bridal suite before their wedding.
We only got to see the first of the two parts, which goes up through the birth of Brown and Houston’s daughter, Bobbi Kristina, and finds Brown at a low point after having survived a drive-by shooting that killed his sister’s fiancee. Part two will presumably cover his fraught reunions with New Edition, his by turns amusing and sad (but mostly sad) reality show Being Bobby Brown, which ripped the cover off of Houston’s immaculate Disney-princess image, the deaths of Houston and Bobbi Kristina, and Brown’s new family with his manager.
Overall it’s a worthy addition to the made-for-TV event biographical miniseries — the familiar arc of rise, fall, and rebirth common to stories like this. I liked it enough to watch part two, as is *AHEM* my prerogative.
The Bobby Brown Story airs Tuesday and Wednesday night on BET and will be available on demand.