Imagine a life so cliched that you would beg the scribes and producers of your life story to make up something, anything, to breathe life into it. Superficially sketched and played at an overwrought level, “The Fantasia Barrino Story: Life Is Not a Fairy Tale” never penetrates the psyche or personality of the “American Idol” winner or even mentions the biggest revelation of her tell-all book: that she is functionally illiterate. It also fails to chronicle her three-month rise from bewildered single mom to America’s latest singing sensation.
The “Barrino Story” has no revelations for fans of her run on “American Idol,” where she was crowned champ in the singing competition show’s third season. And with Barrino playing herself, it all feels like an imitation of a life in which a girl with low self-esteem can suddenly piece together inspirational speeches after she hits the ripe old age of 19.
“Barrino” takes us to High Point, N.C., where her unmarried parents Diane (Viola Davis) and JoJo (Kadeem Hardison) lead a gospel band. Young Fantasia (Jamia Simone Nash in the telepic’s lone unswerving perf) shows extraordinary promise as a singer, and she and her brothers join the family act. As much as Fantasia is shown enjoying life only when she sings, she has it in her head that singing is her mother’s and grandmother’s dream, not hers. So she wanders aimlessly through life, getting picked on for her looks in one of the movie’s least convincing scenes.
Fantasia responds by turning sassy, ditching school and dressing provocatively to catch the eyes of boys. She lands a basketball player as a boyfriend; once they have sex, he drops her in a heartbeat. Trusting a boy who’s been keen on her, she ends up getting raped and sinks into greater self-doubt.
None of these issues are covered in any depth. Nor, for that matter, is her inability to read. In the pic, she just chooses to flunk.
Soon, she’s back with her first love and quickly becomes pregnant. Mom and her friends are anguished as Fantasia continues the cycle of giving up dreams for her own life as she gets pregnant at an early age. She leaves home, struggles with her baby’s father Rodney (Chico Benymon) coming and going in her life and, after the baby is born, has the occasional glimmer of hope that she’ll find peace and purpose in motherhood.
Uneducated, unfocused and ill prepared for the work place, she finds her love for music restored. Friends and family encourage her to head to Atlanta to audition for “Idol”; after passing the first day, a timing mix-up leads to her getting an assist from a security guard so she can become the last person to audition for the judges. (That part has been widely determined to be true. Scenes in which “Idol” execs suggest she might want to quit because of her background and the hate mail it generates have been deemed a fabrication).
When Johnny Lee Brooks (the appealing Cedric Pendelton), a good-looking, church-going self-starter, enters the picture, there’s some sense that Fantasia can have a healthy, loving relationship.
Director Debbie Allen elicits some nice energy early on in church scenes but appears to have yelled “cut” too early too often throughout the rest of the movie. In scene after scene, the tone is too much — too maudlin, too angry, too insincere. Barrino’s “Idol” period is covered through scenes of her performing; there’s no sense of what it was like to be away from her family or surrounded by other contestants. Somehow, “The Fantasia Barrino Story” largely ignores the time in her life that changed her most.
Davis brings some life to the story as Fantasia’s mother, but her character is generally given only two emotions: rage and empathy. Other characters are used for a single emotion, keeping “Fairy Tale” as shallow as possible.