The most perplexing thing about TV movies is that, since they always come and go at about the same rate of most theatrically released movies, they all blur together in your mind, and you can't remember one from the next. While viewing the TV movie Double Platinum, the hyped-to-hell telefilm about mother-and-daughter pop divas, I couldn't help but notice terra familiar. Maybe not in the same setting, but the whole story line has undoubtedly been done before. Maybe it was from a TV movie set in the country-music world, and it starred Reba McEntire as the mom and Tracey Gold as the daughter. Or maybe it was a tube flick set in the modeling biz, and it starred Jacqueline Bisset and Nicolette Sheridan in the mother-daughter roles. Anyhow, this time around the two stars playing mom and daughter are Diana Ross and Brandy, old-school and new-school divas if there ever were ones. But if you're expecting some hair-slinging, eyelash-flapping fireworks from these top-of-the-line prima donnas, you better read this first.
Double Platinum starts off in 1981, where Ross is Olivia, a struggling singer who plays Atlanta juke joints while taking care of her baby daughter. She gets an offer to leave the Georgia sticks in favor of a lucrative singing career in New York City, but her verbally abusive husband (played by the usually sensitive stage actor Brian Stokes Mitchell) forbids her. Choosing career over family, Olivia says good-bye to her little girl and disappears one night.
Cut to 18 years later. The baby girl has grown up to become Kayla Harris -- Brandy. Working at her dad's dry-cleaning store, she too sings at nightclubs on the side and longs to be just like her idol, Olivia King, the superstar singer Kayla doesn't know is really her long-lost mom. When Kayla gets the chance to see Olivia in concert (Olivia pays off a radio station to make her a ticket giveaway contest winner), Olivia sees it as a perfect time to come out with the truth. Needless to say, Kayla freaks. But after seeing Kayla perform at a club one night, Olivia offers the young, emotionally confused lass a proposition to make up for all those years of parental neglect: take her back to New York City so she can help her start a singing career. Kayla, too mad to forget the pain but not too dumb to pass up an enormous opportunity, tearfully agrees.
They trek to New York, where Olivia introduces Kayla to her "people" (inspired casting alert: Harvey Fierstein plays Olivia's kvetching lawyer) and assumes the identity of stage mom. She begins coaching Kayla on her posture and voice, and tells her to steer clear of shady record-industry folk like the smooth-talking Ric Ortega (Jason's Lyric's Allen Payne, who has finally shaved all that damn Magilla Gorilla hair off his chest). Of course, Kayla, still sore about that whole absent-mom thing, doesn't give Olivia the chance to play parental figure and starts disobeying her wishes.
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The full-fledged, diva-fueled bitchfest Double Platinum gets buried by sappy tenderness. Robert Allan Ackerman's bleary-eyed direction makes the movie just as misty as the characters (and, hopefully, the audience), and Nina Shengold's script is way too sympathetic of the two main protagonists to turn them into petty, tantrum-throwing drama mamas. It's a story of a woman who goes back to erase the mistake of her life and a girl who, despite her standoffish attitude, longs for a mother figure -- that's all. Although I'm not giving anything away, it is safe to say that by the end of this film, the two will have appeared on stage together to a sing a heart-warming duet, written by none other than that new queen of lyrical schmaltz, Diane Warren (sorry, Carole Bayer Sager). Of course, this isn't the only song the ladies sing in the movie. Ross and Brandy (who both share executive-producer credit on this dog-and-pony show) perform selections from their recent albums to give the flick an endearing, if histrionic, soundtrack.
But how do the ladies fare in this as actors? Ross, who seems to come out of that castle in England or wherever the hell she lives only to do emotionally wringing TV movies like this, looks like she's having a ball. She throws all her emotions into this thing. It's almost like she's trying to find the spark she had during her Lady Sings the Blues-Mahogany-The Wiz prime. (She doesn't find it, of course, but at least she tries.) Brandy does her best to elevate the film from its perpetual bathos whenever she materializes on screen, despite the fact that every other scene has her drowning in tears. She delivers her often chilly lines with all the nostril-flaring, straight-faced vitality of your average soap star. She proves once again she'll be here longer than all these other teen phenoms.
As far as TV movies go, Double Platinum lives up to its melodramatic quotient. Anyone expecting this film to be more than the cheesy-ass movie-of-the-week it tries its damnedest not to be will be in for a cheesy-ass movie-of-the-week. As the press notes so boldly state, the movie is "the poignant and dramatic story of a mother and daughter's bond." To include anything complex would just get in the way of a good piece of hokum. Well, at least it's less grating and self-important than VH1's Divas Live '99.
Double Platinum, directed by Robert Allan Ackerman, with Diana Ross, Brandy, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Harvey Fierstein and Allen Payne, airs Sunday, May 16, at 8 p.m. on KTRK-Channel 13.