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Mary J. Blige's My Life (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 18, 2023


Featuring Mary J. Blige, Sean Combs, Taraji P. Henson, Alicia Keys, Tyler Perry, Method Man, Nas, Andre Harrell, Big Bub, Chucky Thompson, Anita Baker, LaTonya Blige-DaCosta andJeff Redd.

Directed by Vanessa Roth.

Distributed by Amazon Studios. 82 minutes. Rated R.

This documentary pretty much specifically focuses on Blige’s second album release, My Life, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2019, leading to a very abbreviated tour. According to Blige herself and several of her collaborators and fans, My Life was her darkest, most personal album and perhaps her defining moment as an artist, both popularly and artistically.

Perhaps, but that may be tossing the net too closely. Although the film also discusses her growing up and discovery and her hit debut album, it barely touches upon much of her career after 1994-1995 – except for showing some performances from a couple of 25th anniversary My Life concerts. It mostly ignores the 11 albums she has released since then, any of her later hit singles, or even her increasingly busy side hustle as an actress.

I’m just wondering if focusing on My Life almost exclusively is the best idea for a documentary. Yes, I get that it was during a very dramatic and fraught time of her life – with drug, alcohol and relationship problems and battling with depression – and it was also a time when she had not quite come to terms with her fame, nor did she feel worthy of it. It was arguably also the album where Blige found her musical voice – she had less power and less input in the recording of her smash debut album.

My Life should definitely be a good chunk of a documentary. However, unless you are very familiar with the album, focusing on it so completely takes away some of the film’s interest. While I’m not the world’s biggest fan, I know several of Mary J. Blige’s songs, and only two of them in this film were familiar to me – and one of those, “Real Love,” was actually from her previous album What’s the 411? Okay, I knew three songs here if you count a live cover of “Caught Up in the Rapture” which she performs as a duet with that song’s original vocalist, Anita Baker.

However, this documentary is meant for the hardcore fans – not the casual ones like me. Several are interviewed during the running time, and Blige takes more than one opportunity to profess her love for the fans. This is a love letter for the people who have supported her, and what is wrong with that?

Nothing, but it does keep the proceedings from digging too deep into the subject as well. This is sort of a fan club celebration. Yes, Blige does share some dark moments in her past, such as her abusive relationship at the time of the recording with then-popular singer Cedric “K-Ci” Hailey of Jodeci (and later K-Ci & JoJo).

While she does open up – somewhat – about what happened, the film purposefully skirts its way around most of the hard details. Also, the film takes it as a given that K-Ci was the bad guy here – and he probably was – but everyone who discusses it here blames him entirely. K-Ci himself, or anyone who may have a different explanation, is not invited to give his side of the story. Which I guess is somewhat expected – it’s her movie, not his – but it still seems like you’re only hearing from one side.

At one point in the documentary, when watching an uncomfortable interview clip of herself circa the album, acknowledges she is very protective of her younger self.

As is everybody else. Sean “Diddy” Combs gushes about his protegee. Rapper and co-writer Big Bub states that they were making history. The late music exec Andre Harrell (who suddenly died last year not long after doing interviews for the documentary – the doc is dedicated to him) expounds upon her talent and her unique soul and funkiness.

And, yes, what Blige achieved did change music for black artists – particularly women. She helped to introduce ghetto chic to a staid music world which tended to try to sand the rough edges and the ethnicity from African American divas. She was not quite as alone in this pursuit as the film claims, though, just off the top of my head I can remember TLC doing similar things at about the same time. However, all props to Mary, she was able to change the direction of music, which is no small feat.

My Life shows Mary J. Blige to be a fascinating and complicated artist. I just wish it dug a little deeper into her career and her complications.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2021 All rights reserved. Posted: June 26, 2021.

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