Sunday, March 19, 2023

Review: What's Love Got to Do With It" - The First Time the Oscars Screwed Angela Bassett

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 13 of 2023 (No. 1902) by Leroy Douresseaux

What's Love Got to Do With It (1993)
Running time:  118 minutes (1 hour, 58 minutes)
MPAA – R for domestic violence, strong language, drug use and some sexuality
DIRECTOR:  Brian Gibson
WRITER:  Kate Lanier (based on the book, I, Tina, by Tina Turner and Kurt Loder)
PRODUCERS:  Doug Chapin, Barry Krost, and Kate Lanier
EDITOR:  Stuart Pappé
COMPOSER:  Stanley Clarke
Academy Award nominee


Starring:  Angela Bassett, Laurence Fishburne, Jenifer Lewis, Chi McBride, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Phyllis Yvonne Stickney, Pamela Tyson, Khandi Alexander, Penny Johnson, Richard T. Jones, James Reyne, and RaéVen Kelly

What's Love Got to Do with It is a 1993 biopic and music film directed by Brian Gibson.  It is an adaptation of the 1986 autobiography, I, Tina, by Tina Turner and Kurt Loder and is also based on the life of American music icon and Grammy Award-winning recording artist, Tina Turner.

The film takes its name from Tina's 1984 hit single, “What's Love Got to Do with It,” which was a Billboard magazine “Hot 100” #1 single.  What's Love Got to Do With It the movie is a fictional depiction of Tina's professional and personal life with her former husband, the late Ike Turner (1931-2007), who was a musician, bandleader, record producer, singer-songwriter and Grammy Award winner.  The film follows Tina Turner's life from her upbringing in rural Tennessee (early 1950s), through her rise to music stardom and her abusive marriage to Ike Turner (1960s-70s), and finally, to her career revival as a solo artist (early to mid 1980s).

What's Love Got to Do with It introduces Anna Mae Bullock (Angela Bassett).  In 1958, she moves to St. Louis where she reunites with her elder sister, Alline Bullock (Phyllis Yvonne Stickney), and her mother, Zelma Bullock (Jenifer Lewis). Not long after her arrival, Anna is taken by Alline to a nightclub at East St. Louis where she sees a performance by “Ike Turner and the Kings of Rhythm.”  Ike Turner (Laurence Fishburne) is a charismatic bandleader, and Anna, who likes to sing, wishes she could perform with his wild band, the Kings of Rhythm.

When she finally gets a chance to perform onstage with Ike and his band, Anna impresses him with her singing and her exuberant stage presence.  Ike offers to mentor Anna and to produce her music, and he gives her the stage name “Tina Turner.”  In time, Ike and Anna develop a close relationship and eventually marry.  The musical act, “Ike & Tina Turner” (the “Ike & Tina Turner Revue” when performing live) become stars, but Ike has a dark side.  He is addicted to narcotics and is violent and abusive.  And Tina feels the brunt of his physical abuse.  Will Anna/Tina find the courage to break away from him and forge her own career path?

Until recently, I had never watched What's Love Got to Do with It in its entirety.  I decided to watch it in anticipation of Angela Bassett hopefully winning the “Best Supporting Actress” Oscar at the recent 95th Academy Awards (March 12, 2023) for her performance as “Queen Ramonda” in Disney/Marvel Studios' hit film, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.  Unfortunately, Bassett did not win, nor did she win the “Best Actress” Oscar for which she was nominated 29 years ago for her performance in What's Love Got to Do with It?

The shame of it is that in the case of What's Love Got to Do with It, it is Bassett's performance, along with Laurence Fishburne's, that carries this film.  Quality wise and in terms of production and execution, What's Love Got to Do with It is a theatrical film that plays like a television movies.  Had What's Love Got to Do with It been a TV movie it would have been a much-talked about “television event,” but the end result would have been an elevated melodrama.

The film's direction, by the late Brian Gibson (1944-2004), emphasizes spousal abuse as style over the substance of plot and character.  The screenplay, written by Kate Lanier (who is also one of the film's producers), suffers from what plagues many biographical films and celebrity biopics.  That is the problem with time.  Rather than focus on a specific and pivotal moment in time, What's Love Got to Do with It, like other biopics, covers multiple decades.  By my estimation, the film covers roughly 1950 to 1983.  The first depiction of Ike abusing Tina is about 55 minutes into the movie, but one of the supporting characters states that this particular incident isn't the first time Ike has hit Tina.  So basically, the film skips over key early moments in Ike and Tina's tumultuous relationship.  [Both Tina and Ike apparently were not happy with the accuracy of this film.]

What's Love Got to Do with It is elevated because of the performances by both Bassett and Fishburne, as well as those of the supporting cast.  Jenifer Lewis proves once again why she is a national film treasure as Anna's mother, Zelma.  The shamefully underrated and underutilized Vanessa Bell Calloway shines in important and key moments of this film.  Laurence Fishburne does more than just make Ike Turner a monster.  He deftly conveys Ike's bitterness and resentment and especially his sense that he has never really gotten what he deserves in terms of financial success, record sales, and industry credit for what he contributed to both the art and business of popular music.

The treasure in What's Love Got to Do with It is, of course, Angela Bassett.  The real-life Tina Turner's voice was dubbed into this movie for the scenes in which Bassett's Turner has to sing.  Still, Bassett offers a richly crafted fictional version of Anna Mae Bullock/Tina Turner.  Her emotions resonate, and her joy and happiness, love and pride, and fear and sorrow come across as genuine.  In this film's quiet, reflective moments, Bassett seems as if she is really thinking Tina's thoughts.  That alone should have earned Bassett an Oscar win back on March 21, 1994 at the 66th Academy Awards.  What should have made Bassett a shoo-in is the physicality of her performance and the way she transformed her body for the role.  It's all superb:  the dancing, posing, and movement on stage; how she mimics the real Tina Turner's facial expressions on stage and when she sings; and the way Bassett carries herself and moves through the trials and tribulations of her life offstage as Ike Turner's wife.

Let's be honest; What's Love Got to Do with It would work better as a TV miniseries.  Let's be real; if Angela Bassett were a white actress, she would have won an Oscar already, probably for What' s Love Got to Do with It.  Not having an Oscar does not change the fact that Bassett has been one of the most versatile and charismatic actors of the large and small screen.  Bassett has also given commanding performances and has been a dominating presence in a number of supporting and small roles in popular films released over the better part of the last four decades.  Although Bassett has not received her Oscar crown, her performance in What's Love Got to Do with It remains her crowning achievement … in a career that should have had more of them since then.

7 of 10
★★★½ out of 4 stars

Sunday, March 19, 2023

1994 Academy Awards, USA:  2 nominations:  “Best Actor in a Leading Role” (Laurence Fishburne) and “Best Actress in a Leading Role” (Angela Bassett)

1994 Golden Globes, USA:  1 win: “Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical” (Angela Bassett)

1995 Image Awards (NAACP): 1 win: “Outstanding Lead Actress in a Motion Picture” (Angela Bassett); 3 nominations: “Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture” (Laurence Fishburne), “Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture” (Jenifer Lewis), and “Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture” (Vanessa Bell Calloway)

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