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Searching for the Real Love

Mary-j-bliges-my-life-movie-review-big-bub
Amazon Studios

MOVIE REVIEW
Mary J. Blige’s My Life (2021)

The first two credits that appear in the “Mary J. Blige’s My Life” documentary belong to the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul herself and producer Sean “Diddy” Combs, one of the masterminds behind the seminal album referenced in the title. Those are a bit concerning given how Prime Video’s other recent music documentary “Pink: All I Know So Far” has turned out. Thankfully, Ms. Blige isn’t interested in a glowing profile of herself. During the film, she revisits an old TV interview during which she appeared evasive and seemed to be lashing out. This movie affords an opportunity to set the record straight and finally answer those invasive and uncomfortable questions with her guard down and the wisdom and introspection that only come with age and experience.

Was the unrelenting navel gazing of tabloid music programs necessary? That approach was perhaps understandable with “My Life.” Ms. Blige describes the record as a cry for help. But back in the day, she was only comfortable revealing her vulnerability through music. She can now speak candidly about the depression and the abuses – of substances and from her ex K-Ci Hailey – that fueled the desperation heard throughout the album. Mr. Combs is better known for his business savvy, but his and Chucky Thompson’s sampling of Roy Ayers Ubiquity’s “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” was musically deft and definitely not coincidental, the pair being mindful that the song has great personal significance to Ms. Blige.

In sharing her travails, she shows a desire to impress upon her fans the importance of self-love. We see footage of how sharing the stage with her idol Anita Baker moved her to tears. Then Alicia Keys speaks on how Ms. Blige gave her the permission to be herself. The filmmakers have organized out of the blue a “listening party” for her fans to discuss the significance of the album to them, which seems to be the only part that doesn’t really quite work as the majority of them just sit there silently. The film seems to imply these fans are recruited from her concert audience, but that’s not enough context and doesn’t really prove the film’s point.

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