Mary J. Blige burst on the scene in 1992 with a sound so unique, raw and vulnerable that she immediately attracted a following and put her mark on the music industry – while being royally dubbed the “Queen of Hip Hop Soul.” But her 1994 sophomore album, “My Life,” transcended the popularity and successes of the first with multiple chart breaking honors – sitting until this day on exclusive lists including “Time’s 100 Greatest Albums of All-Time.”
The new documentary MARY J. BLIGE’S MY LIFE is an entertaining, emotional, and candid retrospective of the singer’s life – set around Blige’s “Royalty” tour which celebrated the 25th anniversary of this pivotal album – featuring several colleagues and friends including the late music executive, producer and Uptown Records founder Andre Harrell, music mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs, actress and activist Taraji P. Henson, director and film mogul Tyler Perry, rapper and actor Cliff “Method Man” Smith, and singer, songwriter, producer Alicia Keys.
From Blige’s childhood upbringing – including her divorced parents, a single mom who sang and a musician father with a love of rock and funk – to her formative teenage years and struggles in the Yonkers projects, to how they both impacted the young woman and artist she’d become, the Vanessa Roth directed film is eye-opening for some, revelatory for many, and confirmation for most of her fan base – who’ve been known and related to Mary’s struggles which oozed out of every note she’s sang since the jump, especially the songs that comprised “My Life.”
Roth cleverly uses elements of animation and “Soul Train” clips of various artistic influences to illuminate Blige’s childhood retellings and propel the story forward- most notably the Anita Baker performance of “Rapture,” the song Blige famously recorded impromptu at a shopping mall recording booth that eventually made its way to Harrell at Uptown Records where she was later signed.
Blige touches on early abuses, that she doesn’t further elaborate, and witnessing domestic violence as a child with her mother and father – both of which contributed to the singer’s insecurities and battles with depression, substance abuse, and her own experiences with physical abuse.
Roth’s sensitivity in telling this story allowed the multi-hyphenate to share as much of her personal story as she wished, which heightens the fact that Blige has been and is able to reach the masses without them knowing every little detail of her life. Her strength and relatability have always been authentic and reflected passionately in the music.
Hands down, some of the most beautiful moments in this film are watching fans approach Blige during meet and greet sessions, many informing the singer of her and the album’s impact on their lives – with several admitting that it literally saved them.
All of this is illuminated by the fact that Blige herself was at a low point while writing and recording “My Life,” and was working through her own insecurities and battle for her inner self to reflect and be secure with the woman she believed she was meant.
“Mary J. Blige’s My Life” is a private look into a part of Blige’s journey, filled with amusing and moving anecdotes, engaging and lively concert and performance footage, and a testament to the beauty of one woman finding, accepting, and sharing her truths and the inspirational impact it’s had on others.
I rate it 5 out of 5 on the MMTrometer.
MARY J. BLIGE’S MY LIFE premiered today and is streaming now on Amazon Prime.
Until next thought, Thomasena