"Britney Ever After" was a heavily hyped "world premiere" on Lifetime of a film based, as one might suspect from the title, on the life and career of Britney Spears. One wonders why anybody would think the world needed a biopic of Britney Spears, but whatever management team is handling her these days has managed to create an image for her of unparalleled success, saying she's sold over 100 million records. Her Wikipedia page was obviously written by someone in her organization because it's a description of one overwhelming success after another, sort of like Donald Trump's depiction of his own business record, and there's only a passing nod to the bizarre set of acting-out behaviors in public that nearly sank her career and turned her into a national joke: "In 2007, Spears's much-publicized personal issues sent her career into hiatus.
Her erratic behavior and hospitalizations continued through the following year, at which point she was placed under a still ongoing conservatorship." Needless to say, those "much-publicized personal issues," "erratic behavior and hospitalizations" are the subject of this movie, written by Anne-Marie Hess but, alas, directed by Leslie Libman instead of her usual collaborator, Vanessa Parise.
The film begins with Britney's parents, alcoholic father James Spears (Matthew Harrison) and domineering mother Lynne Spears (Nicole Oliver), driving across country from their native Louisiana (Spears was actually born in McComb, Mississippi — and Natasha Bassett, who plays her, uses a quite strong proletarian Southern accent — but her parents moved to Kentwood, Louisiana when she was three) to Florida for what's supposed to be her big break: a chance to tour as opening act for the boy band 'NSync. There's nothing of her background before that, including her stint on the Mickey Mouse Club when Disney tried to revive that franchise in 1992; indeed, the opening is shot deliberately to make Our Britney look like just another showbiz wanna-be instead of someone with one foot already in the door and the other on its way. Britney is flabbergasted by having a whole tour bus set aside for her and her entourage, which is mainly her parents and manager Larry Rudolph (Peter Benson), who at the time the film begins had already signed her to Jive Records and sent her out on a tour of shopping malls to promote her upcoming first album. During the tour with 'NSync she meets and falls in love with their lead singer, Justin Timberlake (Nathan Keyes), but their relationship is on- and-off due to clashing schedules once she becomes big enough to headline — and also due to Britney's fierce possessiveness: when she can't get her man of the moment on the phone she mounts relentless attacks on his voicemail, becoming ever more desperate and pleading. (I remember watching a Grammy Awards telecast shortly after Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears broke up for good, and hearing him do a breakup song that was so bitter it sounded like he'd written it about her and the overall message was, "I'm glad I dumped that crazy bitch!")
The film kind of drones on and on as Britney responds to the breakup with an impulsive Las Vegas marriage to some guy (we only see him in bed with her and then in his underwear, as her parents and Rudolph tell him to go to the lobby of the hotel where they're staying so they can get the marriage annulled) and then into another marriage with one of her backup dancers, Kevin Federline (Clayton Chitty), which lasts long enough for her to give birth to twin sons — though given the ferocity of her touring schedule it's a wonder when she could have carried a pregnancy to term without it interrupting things and getting noticed by her fans and the omnipresent paparazzi (Libman and Hess are particularly good at dramatizing this plague loosed on the famous) — though almost as soon as the kids are born Kevin walks out on her. The film is framed as a documentary, supposedly being shot about Britney in 2008 and recounting her various performances at the MTV Video Music Awards — though the only people we see actually being interviewed for this film-within-the-film are Britney and her mom — and it recounts her "hell year" of 2007, in which her behavior becomes increasingly diva-ish and irresponsible.
Britney Spears always struck me as a Madonna wanna-be — though whereas Madonna was already a grown woman when she started and honed an elaborate act that included dancers and elaborate stage effects to highlight both her own sexuality and our whole society's ridiculous and contradictory attitudes towards sex in general, Britney started while she was still a teenager and her appeal was largely the pedophilic thrill of seeing someone at the cusp of the age of consent flaunt her body and her sexuality in such a precocious way. (Later Miley Cyrus, another refugee from the Disney reservation, would pull the same thing.) Britney Spears' inexplicable popularity was originally quite obviously an offshoot of the Madonna phenomenon — when I first saw her on TV I thought, "Who needs a G-rated version of Madonna?," and about her only transition was to stop trying to do a G-rated version and going all-out for the same sort of precocious sexuality and falling far short of her model. I was hoping that, even if Britney Spears the performer bores me, Britney Ever After might move me with the story of Britney Spears the human being — but it didn't because everything about that woman, including her traumas, is just dull.
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