There has been an inevitable, undisputed truth in music since the 1980s. Such is that Bobby Brown – the king of R&B – is in fact the king of this era-defining, and in Brown’s case, life-altering genre of music. It is so true that it is often distracted by great lies and controversy that have been highly publicized throughout the singer’s 3-decade long career. But when you tell the truth and talk about Bobby Brown, you have two sides which complete a very real and true story.
From the real truth and Bobby Brown’s truth, comes The Bobby Brown Story, an epic two-part biopic. The film, written by Abdul Williams and co-produced by Brown himself, made its premiere on the BET Network, and as promised, we got two nights of it. Full of promise with an illustrious trailer, purpose with a tagline, “Sex, Drugs, and R&B,” and prerogative with Spotify ads of Bobby Brown music, the network hands the biopic a unique opportunity similar to the opportunity that Brown handed his career and the industry – full of promise, purpose, prerogative, sex, drugs, r&b, time, entertainment, television, and blackness, too. And that – as Bobby Brown says – is “reeeeeaaaaaaalllllll.”
Like the inevitable, undisputed truth that is realness and Bobby Brown’s realness, the movie is a clear venture to restore the public image of a man and reimagine the persona that made us listen to music and blush.
The biopic begins in flashback with Brown being rushed to the hospital on a stretcher, and then back to Brown as a kid ( played by Tyler Marcel Williams ) sitting beside a friend on a step mourning the death of his grandmother – whom he calls his biggest fan. Just a scene after mourning his grandmother’s passing, Bobby and his friend get into a scuffle with other kids at a park over bikes and Bobby’s friend dies from being stabbed from one of the other kids. After a slow and tragic beginning, the story fast forwards to a now famous Bobby Brown ( played by Woody McClain ) returning home to his parents, Herbert ( T.K. Carter ) and Carole Brown ( Sandi McCree ) after disbanding from New Edition, which you will notice picks up where the 3-part biopic of New Edition, The New Edition Story, left off.
Right away you can tell that this will be the unfortunate, awkward, misadventures of a regular man named Robert Barisford Brown like the media portrayal of the singer that we see, but it is closely guarded behind music and time, so you also know that this will be the story of a musical and cultural icon named Bobby Brown. The early background information tempts you to know everything that happened between childhood and becoming a top music star, but McClain leaning against a wall looking like LL Cool J from the “I Need Love” video, or Fresh Prince coming home to Bel-Air, is much more interesting and irresistable.
When I’m alone in my room, sometimes I stare at the wall… in West Philadelphia, born and raised – wait – we’re not talking about LL or Fresh Prince. We’re talking about Bobby Brown; we’re talking about R&B; and we’re talking about Boston. From the beginning, we very clearly know the necessity of having the story of Bobby Brown and why we needed two parts.
Part 1 is a career-oriented masterpiece that unravels the essence of Bobby Brown: The music, the fashion, the ’80s – you name it. The best part is that it allows McClain to shine in his role. And by shine, I mean McClain puts on a show in many of Bobby’s famous sequined attires. By shine, I mean the gumby haircut. By shine, I mean McClain having a made-up gap tooth for this role. By shine, I mean a spotlight following the star nearly everywhere he goes.
In his portrayal you’ll notice the inevitable, and that is how much McClain resembles Brown. McClain is like the friend that you say looks like a celebrity – except even better because in this case, it’s late ’80s/early ’90s Bobby Brown. I would liken McClain’s resemblance of Bobby Brown to Demetrius Shipp Jr.’s resemblance of the late-great Tupac in last year’s Tupac biopic, All Eyez On Me – except even better. It’s even better than the first time McClain played Brown in The New Edition Story because he’s all alone as a one-man band, and there’s additional pressure behind McClain having to reprise his role. But it is good pressure. With the resemblance intact, McClain takes us through a persona, which means from any era, any outfit, or any song. The resemblance makes the persona real, and allows for the essence of Bobby Brown – a new jack swing – to swing through the movie just as his music did through the industry.
Once the music begins – and you know that it is coming – it isn’t just a barrage of music to make up a melodrama musical. The music is in tune with the person to make up the story of a distinct musical persona who used his music and persona. We start with the video shoot of Brown’s first single, “Girlfriend.” “Rock Wit’cha” then takes us to the recording studio, and as expected, the scene not only includes crooning behind a recording booth, but the backstory of Brown being introduced to super producers L.A. Reid and Babyface.
I want a little music now. Yes, Bobby Brown, we do too.
The lyrics to the 1988 ballad couldn’t be more true as the “Rock Wit’cha” scene moves to the smash hit, “My Prerogative.” The success of “My Prerogative” as well as the classic album “Don’t Be Cruel” which it appeared on goes without saying, and so its introduction in the movie highlights its ultimate impact on Brown’s career of performance and prerogative. Scratch being the boy next door singing about the girl next door. Scratch being the king of stage. Let’s now call him the “bad boy of R&B.” The hit became not just a song, but an era as it inspired a new attitude in the singer and changed a lot of things both onstage and off. Luckily, because of its commercial appeal, he pulled off as many onstage antics as off. A scene details the singer being arrested on stage for his gyrations on female fans which he picked out from the crowd – a thing that Bobby made regularly and famously a part of his set during the song, “Roni.” With his entourage by his side, lead by his manager and brother, Tommy Brown ( played by Mekhi Phifer ), the superstar walks into an arena in early 1989 only to be stopped by a group of police from entering his own concert. But even there, the ever-confident performer has a girlfriend by his side and uses her as a decoy to eventually make it in where he eventually gets arrested. Even the arrests couldn’t stop Brown, as he goes home on his own terms in the next scene to a brand new mansion. A familiar groove from trio Guy plays in the background, and the scene is set for a young, hot, and brash Bobby Brown.
Nothing but bad boy behavior make up several scenes back to back, and they are done in true Bobby Brown fashion – sexy, spontaneous, and famous. In one, he’s having sex with groupies on the set of Ghostbusters II, a blockbuster film he soundtracked with a blockbuster hit, “On Our Own.” The next, he’s hooking up with fellow popstar, Janet Jackson, which involves an intriguing argument about her not wanting to date him because of his darker skin tone and he kicks the singer out of his hotel because of it. That’s right. Bobby Brown slept with Janet Jackson, and my guess is that the conversation about dating longterm, skin color, and kicking her out is to both soothe the publicity of their relationship and make innocent of Brown’s provocativeness.
And it works because Brown’s relationships blew up the real life social media sphere and prompted him to confirm their accuracy, which he of course did not shy away from. Bobby Brown’s provocativeness, as well as the assertion of it, has long been a part of his appeal. Whether we call him the “king” or “bad boy,” the monikers as well as many others were earned more than we know. Whether it was the groupies on set or arguing with Janet about colorism, and then kicking her out of a hotel, we get all too familiar with just how bad the bad boy of R&B was to become.
Out of the many moments in Bobby Brown’s life, the groupies and his newly revealed relationship with Janet Jackson are also in the most unique phase of his career. It cools us down from the start of his success, but warms us up to what many consider the end of it: his marriage to pop icon, Whitney Houston ( played by Gabrielle Dennis ). It renders us lyrics to the soundtrack, “too hot to handle, too cold to hold.”
The star studded marriage takes up the latter half of Part 1 and most of Part 2, and rightfully so, as the story seems to be sticking to the direction of splitting the singer’s career and his personal life. What eases telling about the marriage to Houston is the fact that it’s told from the perspective of Brown. It’s a safe side because of course, it is Brown’s movie and not a Whitney film. Also, because his side is often rejected. Like his pop princess, Bobby has fallen to the well-oiled machine of fame and media, so his truth especially about the two of them together is significant. The film accomplishes telling their side by using details unbeknownst to the public about the couple’s life together. Whitney gets into a confrontation with the mother of one of Bobby’s children from a previous relationship; Bobby gets the same ex-girlfriend pregnant while with Whitney who was also pregnant; Whitney does drugs right before their wedding ceremony and is approached by Bobby. The drama is never ending, and depicts the relationship as a strenuous marriage. There’s so many instances where Brown is at odds with pretty much anyone or anything to do with Whitney, which includes the singer beating up a drug dealer that assumably Whitney is having an affair with and a heated argument with Houston’s best friend and assistant, Robyn Crawford. During the fight, Bobby throws a plate of food across the room and kicks Crawford out of the mansion shared with his new pop wife. Most of their story aligns with other stories about the marriage, and there seems to be nothing else to show aside from Brown’s framed depiction of the relationship. At the same time, while for a long time Whitney’s fame clashed with Bobby’s, you’re tempted to see a rehashing of a Bobby and Whitney tale, whether it is full of truth or lie, love or drama. The film honors this with entertaining scenes like how they met, but only outlined with their first date afterwards where they talk about what they have in common, which includes their love for cigarettes. Then there’s Bobby and Whitney filming the 2005 reality show, “Being Bobby Brown.” The scene where they’re dancing in the store, yep. The real tension, though, is when after the fight with Crawford, Bobby goes to his basement and indulges in drugs.
The candidness about Brown’s drug use places the movie into a whole new perspective – an even newer and better perspective than his marriage. On a table with a pile of white stuff, Bobby leans over and sniffs as Nas’ “N.Y. State of Mind” plays in the background. The movie has traces of his drug abuse prior to this scene, but this one in complete detail and isolation fills us in on the extent of his use. It also fills a weird void of the public eye never having witnessed the reality of the singer do drugs up close and personal. By the singer’s own admission, it weirdly acts as an acceptance to Bobby Brown being a drug addict. We no longer have to ask the ill-advised question, “Is Bobby Brown on drugs?” Bobby Brown is telling us that, “Yes, I am.” Brown curries us another favor in his telling about drugs, in that his erratic behavior increases after this moment, and it’s actually right after this moment when his erraticity reaches its boiling point.
Bobby on a bus and in a moment from drug use, accuses Whitney of trying to kill him. His head starts swirling and he starts seeing things, and at which point he grabs a gun and orders the driver to pull over. When the bus finally stops, Bobby, Whitney, and the rest of his entourage end up on a ranch looking for help. Finally a figure emerges from a house and he pulls out a gun on Bobby, until he recognizes the famous folks and yells, “Whitney Houston?!” which prompts them to run away. The scene isn’t a far stretch from the stories that Brown has told in real life, and it further gives us a glimpse into the imaginative perspective of Brown. With Bobby’s constant drug abuse, he ends up spending ample time in jail, and even this seems revelatory. In jail, Bobby bawls on a pillow in a dark cell and is convincing as a man aware of his dark and deep spot. He’s completely unlike the Bobby Brown onstage: secluded and non-famous. In fact, he seems like a brand new man: off of a stage, away from the entourage, and all alone in a whole different world. We get the sense that drug abuse along with marriage and success was the true reason behind his public infamy.
By this point, the film is a chronicle of various publicized events in Bobby’s life, and his personal woes struggle to find higher ground. He gets divorced and tragedy ensues after the deaths of his father and mother. What keeps the film afloat is McClain’s sensitivity in Brown’s role as a man in search of a new place after practically losing everything he’s ever had. But Brown goes back to the beginning, and continues to live life with a peak of happiness on the stage. It’s through the stage where Bobby finds love both figuratively and literally, as he performs with New Edition bandmates and marries longtime friend and now manager, Alicia Etheredge ( played by Alyssa Goss ). The film ultimately takes a step back and enters into another reality when it pays tribute in writing to his late daughter, Bobbi Kristina ( played by Donshea Hopkins ), who died in 2015 just three years after Whitney, and whom Brown started a domestic violence prevention center in her name. The film does well with private and public, bitter and sweet. Perhaps, to best mirror Brown, who as tender and nice is rough and bad. There is a constructed sadness and fractured happiness. There is a moment, or a scene, that makes you stand still and accept the end.
It’s a refreshing feeling that The Bobby Brown Story ends on a high note. A story with many highs and lows ultimately deserves the highest of highs, especially the story of Bobby Brown whose story we watch intensely, and look up to and look down upon. The story is precisely this: The story of Bobby Brown. The result of which is a perfect story. And the irony is that Bobby Brown’s story, for most of his life and career, has been everything but perfect. But the true irony is that Bobby Brown’s story, for his music and contributions to popular culture, is perfect. And that is not only irony or a story, but the inevitable, undisputed truth.