What's Love Got To Do With It
Reviewed by Stephen MacMillan Moser, Fri., March 23, 2001
What's Love Got To Do With It
D: Brian Gibson (1993); with Angela Bassett, Laurence Fishburne, James Reyne, Vanessa Bell, Richard T. Jones.
The deification of St. Tina and the deserved crucifixion of Ike, starring the magnificent Angela Bassett, is harrowing and crackling with electricity. Perhaps the only movie with more domestic violence than Mommie Dearest, this is the movie bio to end all movie bios. From the earliest scenes of a rambunctious Tina (or Anna Mae, as she was known then) acting up during choir practice, we, the audience, belong to her completely -- irrevocably winning us through empathy and admiration for such a feisty, plucky spirit. Showing Ike as a famous R&B star and suave lady-killer at the time he meets the young Tina, Ike wins her through a combination of persistence and flattery, appealing to her vanity and sense of loyalty ("I make them famous and then they run off," Ike tells her). But they team up and, as we know, make musical history. Their codependency is of the direst sort -- he makes her a star and feels like he owns her, and she just wants to please him. But pleasing Ike is a tall order, and any success is only temporary. We are taken on a wild ride of spectacular performances in vivid color -- both the great achievements of the duo, as well as their darkest hours. Ike slides into drugs and domination, making the situation as hopeless as most codependent situations are. Tina runs away, and in a wrenching scene, appears in the lobby of the neighboring Ramada Inn, begging for shelter. We are begging with her, praying for some nameless act of charity to deliver her from evil. She makes a relatively clean getaway, winding up in the hands of Roger Davies, her manager (and a producer of this film), who engineered one of the greatest comebacks in history. Of course, Ike tries desperately (and unsuccessfully) to woo her back. He tells her how he made her, but then becomes ridiculous, uttering to her in 1980, "You ain't no Donna Summer." But we know what the outcome of that is: Tina's personal success and lifetime appointment as poster child for Survivors Anonymous is legendary. Bassett is one of the finest actresses alive, but has yet to produce anything rivaling this performance. She is backed up by a number of extremely strong performances, especially that of Vanessa Bell, in a stand-up performance as her friend Jackie, who not only proves to Tina that she can escape from Ike, but also shows her a way to inner peace through Buddhism. During the closing credits, we see the real-life Tina perform the title song, but it is a gratuitous, and even negligent performance, that undermines the audience's belief in Basset as Tina. This film meshes together the cinematography, script, acting, and music into a dazzling and sometimes horrifying, but always riveting tour de force.