What's Love Got to Do With It?

What's Love Got to Do With It?, Brian Gibson, USA, 1993)


The biopic is a difficult and often treacherous genre, as films such as David Attenborough's Chaplin (1992) have so disastrously shown. But perhaps a musical biopic like What's Love Got to Do With It? suffers the least problems.

For even when the story indulges the most outrageous clichés about destiny, love, suffering and overcoming, there's always a classic song bubbling up on the soundtrack which makes sweet poetry from these very same clichés.

What's Love Got to Do With It? is the most enjoyable biopic to appear since Jonathan Kaplan's Heart Like a Wheel (1983), precisely because it is unafraid to structure itself like a good pop song.

It flies at full speed from Tina's humble origins to her fateful meeting with band leader Ike Turner (Laurence Fishburne) and on through the highs and lows of her career.

Much emphasis is placed on the most painful aspect of this story: Ike's drug use and his descent into brutal, repeated acts of domestic violence.

Angela Bassett is marvellous as Tina, conveying perfectly the quiet hysteria that comes from having to smile and "go on with the show" between bouts of abuse. Since this is clearly the singer's authorised version of events, the moral judgment of the story is clean and swift: Tina was a victim, Ike was a bastard. On an emotional level at least, the film convinces us of this view.

Director Brian Gibson's commitment to hyperrealism results in some strange, spectacular moments. A meticulously recreated scene of a British interview with a stressed Tina and a drugged Ike looks like an outtake from a Paul Morrissey movie; and the appearance of the real Tina, replacing Bassett midway during the final song, is quite surreal.

MORE music films: The Thing Called Love, Ray, Pure Country

MORE biopics: Ali, Auto Focus, The Aviator, Basquiat, De-Lovely, I Shot Andy Warhol, Kundun, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, Man on the Moon, Malcolm X, Nixon, The People vs. Larry Flynt, Pollock

© Adrian Martin April 1994

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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