Review by Michael Bruins
The Lifetime Network recently premiered its heavily anticipated teleplay centered on the life and career of R&B gem Toni Braxton. Entitled Toni Braxton: Unbreak My Heart the production covers many highs and lows spanning from her teenage years to as recent as her latest Grammy win last February. With a cast consisting of legends like Debbie Morgan and new comers like Gavin Houston and Lex Scott Davis Unbreak My Heart takes audiences on a roller coaster of a ride through relationships, hardship, and shocking revelations.
The film aims to cover all the important aspects of not only Toni Braxton’s music career but also her personal life, however this may have been one of the let downs of the film. Because there were so many events to cover, the story line appears to be a little rushed. It’s an expected outcome for a teleplay with a very eventful story line but a limited time frame for showcasing. The film would have benefited from an additional 30 or 40 minutes to help with the development of the scenes. Yet even with that setback there are many highs within the film.
The accompaniment of Toni Braxton’s real singing voice for all the musical numbers presented during the film helps to capture the essence and sound of some of Toni Braxton’s biggest hits. The film also does a great job of shedding light on many of the rumors and ill-fated stories that plagued Toni Braxton’s career when it comes to her health and finances. Audiences are able to witness both bankruptcy scandals through the lens of Toni herself rather than through the lens of tabloids that often falsely accused her of overspending. The film sheds light on the importance of good recording contracts and health insurance policies when working as a high caliber entertainer with a Las Vegas residency.
Gavin Houston and Debbie Morgan give phenomenal performances within their respective roles as Kenneth Babyface Edmonds and Evelyn Braxton. With room for growth, Lex Scott Davis gives a moderately decent performance as Toni Braxton. The costuming, make up, hair, and the look are all exceptional, but there seems to be something missing within her portrayal. It may have been her light feathered speaking voice in some scenes which is a major contrast to Toni’s heavier and richer tone. This was often demonstrated when the scenes would transition from Toni Braxton’s narration and voice over back to scenes including Lex. At times her lip syncing during the music numbers was less than convincing. Yet even with all that being said her beauty and demeanor in some aspect does help to capture the embodiment of Toni Braxton.
Needed were 2 or 3 very strong music performances in the film. There are several that included performances of Give You My Heart, Unbreak My Heart, and You Mean the World to Me however they are only briefly showcased. Having more enhanced performance scenes and a stronger emphasis on the heavy impact of her music contributions may have helped to seal the deal on solidifying her major impact and legacy. You can’t help but question if a viewer unfamiliar with Toni Braxton would leave this film with an idea of how much of a force she was during the 90s.
The film gives insight to many of Toni’s personal experiences; growing up religious, marriage, divorce, having an autistic son, infidelity within her family and even her transition from girl next door to international sex symbol. It is the later scenes in the last 40 minutes of the film that are better structured and help bring the film to a strong closing. The icing on the cake is a brilliantly crafted scene that ends with Toni Braxton playing the piano and subtly singing the song that serves as the pinnacle of her career.
Overall, the film is a is composed of many intense and revealing moments with some humorous dialogue and whimsical music selections that leave unfamiliar audiences with a desire to look into Toni Braxton the entertainer and familiar audiences with a new found appreciation for Toni Braxton’s perseverance.