Chronicling the rise & fall of Motown's great vocal group The Temptations (1998), the biopic develops the first half or more of its story so sweetly, it almost seems a children's movie of dreams, talents, & family values.
It's nice to see a cluster of young black men portrayed for once as moral & goodhearted, but the Disney tone gets wearisome at times, plus the "factual" narrator is a clumsy choice for moving the story along, distancing the viewer from the drama.
The second half of the film, however, show troubles galore. The addiction & warped ego of David Ruffin ("Leon"), & more catastrophically, the descent of Paul Williams (Christian Payton) into illness, alcoholism, & loss of his singing voice -- this is tough stuff, leading to a climax that is just so not child-friendly.
And the tone of the film, in going from sweetness to darkness, is almost like two unrelated movies.
Still, in the main this is good-of-kind, effective musical docudrama, with some of the faults & all of the plusses of its genre. Director Allan Arkush was justifiably an Emmy winner for outstanding direction of a telefilm or miniseries, & The Temptations also garnered an Image Award & a Golden Reel Award.
A lot of the strength comes from the music itself. Though none of the actors lip-sync convincingly in any sustained way, & they lack the charismatic suavity of the actual Temptations, it's nevertheless grand music. And encounters here & there with other Motown artists -- Martha Reeves (N'Tasha A. Pierre), Mary Willson (Taifa Harris), Smokey Robinson (Erik Michael Tristan), Marvin Gaye (Ricky Fante), & so on -- is always good for a grin.
The introduction to how they reached their hit song "My Girl" is pleasing stuff. The best segment done music-video style was for "Poppa Was a Rolling Stone" surrounded by some fairly dramatic stuff that makes largely fictional assumptions to explain the song's dark perfection.
Apart from the downright scary conclusion when Paul finishes off a bender in the streets of Detroit, this could otherwise have been a family film. It is at least a respectful treatment of its subject, despite that it is greatly fictionalized & much more inspired by than really based on Otis Williams' biography of the vocal group.
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