×

TV Review: ‘Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B’

With:
Alexandra Shipp, Rachael Crawford, Sterling Jarvis, A.J. Saudin, Lyriq Bent, Anthony Grant, Cle Bennett, Izaak Smith, Elise Neal, Chattrisse Dolabaille

For all the accomplishments that filled Aaliyah’s tragically short life, there’s not much, dramatically speaking, upon which to hang a movie — even a relatively modest one for Lifetime. So advance controversy about the casting, among other things, can only benefit “Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B,” a near-content-free exercise that dutifully goes through the singer’s life in episodic fashion, up until her death at the age of 22. Alexandra Shipp is perfectly fine in the title role, but the slim material doesn’t provide much more depth than the actress’s teeth-cutting days at Nickelodeon.

Perhaps the most obvious cinematic template would be “La Bamba,” which captured Ritchie Valens’ rise to musical stardom, before his own death in a plane crash. Only that at least featured the singer’s struggle for success, as well as his difficult relationship with his older brother.

By contrast, Aaliyah essentially starts on second base, and is heading toward home plate before you know it. The singer is introduced as a 10-year-old girl on “Star Search,” quickly landing a spot in Vegas performing with her aunt by marriage, Gladys Knight (Elise Neal). By 15, her uncle (Lyriq Bent) has secured her a meeting with producer R. Kelly (Cle Bennett), who oversees her platinum-selling debut album, and in the one genuinely dramatic interlude, marries her, despite being 12 years her senior.

Even those scenes, however, are relatively chaste — played so straight as to lack any real teeth, especially given Kelly’s subsequent legal woes regarding sexually abusing under-age girls. “You ain’t got to look at the sun to know it’s shining,” he tells her during their studio sessions.

Aaliyah’s parents force an annulment, but her pain quickly passes as she insists on her own producing team and promptly churns out another mega-hit, all the while charting her move into movies, encouraged by her loving mom (Rachael Crawford).

And that, frankly, is about that. Shipp — who replaced Zendaya in the title role — is certainly beautiful, but there’s only so much to be done with such a thinly drawn portrait. Despite being based on Christopher John Farley’s book, the adaptation from director Bradley Walsh and writer Michael Elliot labors along in at best workmanlike fashion, as if the billboard and title do all the heavy lifting. And for Lifetime’s purposes, that’s perhaps the case.

Indeed, Walsh even employs a pointless split-screen effect during the several musical montages, as if grasping for a creative flourish to foster a sense of pace or excitement that simply isn’t there.

From that perspective, it’s questionable whether this movie chronicling “The Princess of R&B’s” short reign adds anything to her legacy, much less warranting the fuss that preceded it.

Popular on Variety

TV Review: 'Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B'

(Movie; Lifetime, Sat. Nov. 15, 8 p.m.)

Production: Produced by Aaliyah Prods.

Crew: Executive producers, Howard Braunstein, Debra Martin Chase, Wendy Williams; producer, Steve Solomos; director, Bradley Walsh; writer, Michael Elliot; based on the book by Christopher John Farley; camera, Andre Pienarr; production designer, Diana Abbatangelo; editor, David B. Thompson; music, Mischa Chillak. 120 MIN.

Cast: Alexandra Shipp, Rachael Crawford, Sterling Jarvis, A.J. Saudin, Lyriq Bent, Anthony Grant, Cle Bennett, Izaak Smith, Elise Neal, Chattrisse Dolabaille

More TV

  • TV News Roundup: Netflix Drops Trailer

    TV News Roundup: Netflix Drops Trailer for Ryan Murphy's 'The Politician' (Watch)

    In today’s TV news roundup, Netflix has drops the first trailer for “The Politician,” and “Killing Eve” adds two to its cast for season 3.  CASTING Harriet Walter and Danny Sapani, both alums of “The Crown,” are set to join the cast of “Killing Eve” for its third season. British writer Suzanne Heathcote, whose past credits include [...]

  • Lady Gaga

    Variety Earns 14 Folio: Eddie & Ozzie Award Nominations

    Variety has received 14 Folio: Eddie & Ozzie award nominations for its coverage of the entertainment industry over the past year. The awards gala, which will take place at The Hilton Midtown in New York City on Oct. 30, celebrates publications that have demonstrated impressive investigative journalism, in addition to thoughtful digital and print design. [...]

  • Disneyland

    Disney Shares Slip Amid Reported Whistleblower Allegations of Inflated Revenue

    Sandra Kuba, a former senior financial analyst for Disney’s revenue operations unit, says she has filed a series of whistleblower tips with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, alleging that the entertainment conglomerate repeatedly and systematically overstated its revenue for years, according to a MarketWatch report, by as much as $6 billion in a single [...]

  • Bob Bakish Joe Ianniello

    ViacomCBS Sets Board Members; Bob Bakish, Joe Ianniello New Deals Disclosed

    ViacomCBS has unveiled the 13 members of its board of directors and details of new employment contracts for president-CEO Bob Bakish and CBS chairman-CEO Joe Ianniello. The disclosure came Monday in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, six days after Viacom and CBS at long last set an all-stock merger agreement valued at [...]

  • Carrie Underwood, left, and Reba McEntire

    CMAs Make Hosting Change: Brad Paisley Exits, Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire Are In

    The CMA Awards have had the most consistent hosting situation of any music awards show in television, but 11 years after installing Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood as the reliable faces of the telecast, even ABC and the Country Music Association have decided it’s time for a switch. Come Nov. 13, Underwood will return for [...]

  • Ava Max iHeartRadio Wango Tango, Portraits,

    Megan Thee Stallion, CNCO, Ava Max to Perform at VMAs Pre-show

    CNCO, Megan Thee Stallion and “Sweet but Psycho” singer Ava Max (pictured) have been added to the performer lineup at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards. The three will take the stage during the VMAs’ red carpet pre-show, hosted by Terrence J and Nessa. Zara Larsson will join the two hosts as a special correspondent. [...]

  • Stacy Rukeyser

    Netflix Orders Dramedy Series 'Sex/Life' From 'UnREAL' Showrunner

    Stacy Rukeyser has landed a series order at Netflix with the dramedy “Sex/Life.” The series is based on the book “44 Chapters About 4 Men” by BB Easton. The series is described as the story of a love triangle between a woman, her husband, and her past which takes a new look at female identity [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content