As we have come to learn with biopics aired on Lifetime, there tends to be no gray area. They are either absolutely awful like the film made about Aaliyah or the not totally abysmal but bad movie about Whitney Houston’s relationship with her former husband, Bobby Brown. The failure of each movie – and to be clear, this is in terms of quality, not ratings which were abundant each time – is rooted in the lack of involvement from anyone who seemed to truly know their stories (family members, friends, and cherished colleagues).
That is why I maintained a smidgen of hope for Toni Braxton’s biopic, Unbreak My Heart. Usually, I’m wary of an artist being so involved in the storytelling of their lives. As Instagram has shown us, thanks to filters, people will mostly give you the glossy side of their lives. Anything messy and counterproductive to presenting perfection is rare. In this case, though, I’d rather have a filtered look into a legendary singer’s life than a mess of storytelling that was the aforementioned films.
To that end, Unbreak My Heart was as good a biopic as it could be on a network like Lifetime.
There was solid casting and very decent acting from the cast. Debbi Morgan, who played Braxton matriarch Evelyn Braxton gave us a notably strong performance. Now, I will say the woman who played Toni Braxton, Lex Scott Davis, was absolutely stunning, but actually looked like she wanted to sing “Mercedes Boy” or “Love Makes Things Happen” more so than any of Toni Braxton’s legendary singles. Then again, I’m also down to sing some Pebbles so perhaps I’m biased in that way. Speaking of Pebbles, goodness, this woman looks like a super villain in any movie dissecting the LaFace Records era.
In any event, my only critique for Davis is, while it was smart to have her simply lip sync to Braxton’s voice as the story went on, her speaking voice seemed a little too bright and airy for Braxton’s husky tone. Likewise, when it came to do the Braxton sisters, I was a bit distracted by Traci Braxton. As a loyal Braxton Family Values watcher, actress Cortney Scott Wright spoke a little too well to be Traci. I needed to hear Traci’s very deep “Murrlyn” accent in its full glory. Traci Braxton sounds like her voice and diction were sponsored by the Old Bay seasoning drowning whatever crabs Ms. Evelyn just finished boiling. I wanted that. I needed that.
Things I did appreciate, though, were seeing a fuller picture of Ms. Evelyn essentially being Joe Jackson with a Bible instead of a belt. Moreover, Ms. Evelyn’s insistence that Toni kept her sisters in mind as she abandoned original plans to enter the music industry as a group in favor of becoming the solo superstar she was clearly destined to be. Lastly, watching Debbi Morgan reenact Ms. Evelyn threatening to cut Rev. Michael Braxton Sr.’s penis off for cheating on her for nine years of their marriage is a memory I will take with me forever. If you watch the reality show, you know Ms. Evelyn still cannot stand “Braxton.” I can’t say that I blame her now.
My only real critique of the movie is that it came across as Wikipedia cinema in some respects. Toni Braxton’s story, which many of her fans are familiar with, is very complicated and extensive. This is a woman who has dealt with the guilt and shame of leaving her family behind; become an international superstar but find herself broke as a result of an unfair music industry; file for bankruptcy not once, but twice; dealt with lupus; dealt with her son being diagnosed with autism; had a husband whom she loved but could not continue to be married to due to her being the breadwinner and him being seemingly somewhat resentful about her place in the family dynamic; to agreeing to do a reality show for her sisters in response to all the guilt.
Toni Braxton’s life is a miniseries if there ever was one, so to cram so much of that into two hours of television – with commercials! – felt rushed in many instances.
However, if there is one thing about Toni Braxton’s life and career that is constant, it is that she has managed to do well and do so gracefully even under conditions unbefitting of her talent, legacy, and contributions. If nothing else, the movie makes you only appreciate Toni Braxton more. The same cannot be said of the other Black music icons who had films air on Lifetime to comically disastrous results.
For that alone, Unbreak My Heart is a win.