by Robert Daniels | special from RogerEbert.com
In 1994, Mary J Blige released what she considers her most personal album: My Life. Since the album’s release, the raw 17-song compendium about loneliness, depression, and pining lamentations has been hailed as a classic (the most recent “500 Greatest Albums” list from Rolling Stone listed the record at #126) and an emotional life raft for the artist and her adoring fans, namely Black women.
Coinciding with the album’s 25th anniversary in 2019—and executive produced by Blige and Sean “Diddy” Combs—the documentary is your typical artist-controlled puff piece. We first begin with the singer’s early life growing up in Schlobohm housing projects in Yonkers. There, Blige navigated the devastating crack epidemic ravaging her neighborhood, an abusive household, and a mother dealing with alcoholism. She explains how her tumultuous roots instilled a sense of inadequacy within herself, causing her to self-medicate with booze whereby her only guiding light became her ability to sing.
In chronicling the singer’s life, Roth breaks the major beats into digestible chapters introduced by pithy intertitle cards displaying lyrics from Blige’s songs. In personable sit-down interviews, Blige explains how she found stardom: she recorded a cover of “Caught up in the Rapture” in a mall studio booth, which through a family connection landed in the hands of Uptown Records artist Jeff Redd. Uptown Records founder Andre Harrell, whom this film is dedicated to following his 2020 passing, took an interest in the young phenom and attached Combs as her producer.
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