Review: What’s Love Got to Do with It? (1993)

Director: Brian Gibson | 118 minutes | drama, biography, music | Actors: Angela Bassett, Laurence Fishburne, Rae’Ven Kelly, Virginia Capers, Khandi Alexander, Jenifer Lewis, Phyllis Yvonne Stickney, Sherman Augustus, Chi McBride, Terrence Riggins, Rob LaBelle, Vanessa Bell Calloway

The life of a pop star is often not about roses. Just ask Tina Turner. Born in 1939 in Nutbush, Tennessee as Anna Mae Bullock, the singer has had to endure a lot in her life. The cause of the most evil was her husband Ike, the man who discovered her and brought her to the top. He couldn’t stomach the fact that his wife was more popular and successful than himself and Tina had to pay for that. The biographical film “What’s Love Got To Do With It” tells the singer’s turbulent life story and focuses in particular on the troubled relationship between Ike and Tina. An energetic, intense and impressive film that you will not soon forget.

What’s Love Got To Do With It follows Tina’s life from the late 1950s to the early 1980s. In the film’s prologue, we see that little Anna Mae (Rae’Ven Kelly) already has a more powerful voice in the Nutbush church choir than the other children. A few years later she sees Ike Turner (Laurence Fishburne) perform in St. Louis. She is immediately impressed by his sleek charms and lets him invite her to the stage. From that moment on, things moved fast with the singing career of Anna Mae (Angela Bassett), who is renamed Tina Turner by Ike. Full halls, gold records, and the accompanying bags of money; then try to keep your head cool again. Ike gets involved in drugs, other women and violence, and Tina is the victim of it. The abuse keeps getting worse and her friends advise her to leave him. Will Tina manage to leave the man who brought her so much success but has now turned into her worst nightmare and start over?

The film is based on the autobiography “I, Tina”, which the singer wrote with Kurt Loder and which was turned into a script by Kate Lanier. British director Brian Gibson had previously proven with “The Josephine Baker Story” that he could handle the life stories of strong women and is doing just that again with “What’s Love Got To Do With It”. Biographical films can quickly degenerate into a soggy drama in which the star is glorified. But this movie is packed with boisterous energy and passion, just like Turner himself. This is largely due to the spectacular music scenes. Bassett doesn’t sing herself but is so convincing in her playback – including the mimicry, rhythm and choreography – that you don’t even realize for a moment that it’s not her voice that you hear. Bassett is Tina. Fishburne does sing himself.

Both actors play their roles very convincingly and were not nominated for an Oscar for nothing. Bassett had fierce competition in the person of Emma Thompson (“The Remains of the Day”) and future winner Holly Hunter (“The Piano”), but absolutely deserved the coveted statue. In her powerful role, she has taken on all of Tina Turner’s signature traits, including the effervescent energy. Bassett is by far the best dark actress in Hollywood and it is a shame that her qualities are not being used enough. Laurence Fishburne also just missed out on the Oscar (which went to Tom Hanks for “Philadelphia”). He’s on a roll as Ike Turner, a man of infinite charm who turns into an insufferable junkie with loose hands. He is much more than the “angry husband” because he knows how to bring depth to his character. The intense scenes between the two protagonists, especially the one in which Ike tries to impose his will on Tina, are intense and realistic and grab you by the throat.

Add to that the fact that the film really breathes the atmosphere of the sixties and seventies. Not only because of the music, the clothes and hairstyles, but also the opinions and attitudes of the characters. Director Gibson picks out exactly the right, revealing aspects of that time. Moreover, he lets the story pass the viewer at the right pace, so that it does not become long-winded for a moment. You really don’t have to be a fan of Tina Turner to appreciate this movie. But those who aren’t will likely be impressed by her strength, courage and perseverance after seeing the film. “What’s Love Got To Do With It” is a very strong biographical film that you really must see. If only because of Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne’s sublime performances.

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