Thursday, January 11, 2007

Man in the Mirror: The Michael Jackson Story (2004)

For about three years, I wrote a biweekly column called "The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly" on a now-defunct website called Movie Poop Shoot. Each piece contained three brief reviews: good and bad are fairly self-explanatory; ugly was the spot for movies so stupid, so incompetent, so embarrassing, so gosh darn bad they're absolute essential viewing. Man in the Mirror: The Michael Jackson Story, a pro-Michael Jackson made-for-TV biopic from 2004 is the rare movie that encompasses all those qualities. It is a perfect storm of ugliness.

The movie doesn't necessarily excuse Jackson's bizarre behavior but it does at least attempt to explain it. It's sort of like Batman Begins if Bruce Wayne decided to become a pasty, androgynous pop star instead of a costumed vigilante. All elements of his now encyclopedic list of ailments, quirks, and idiocyncracies are given a reason for coming to existence, even when they needed no explanation in the first place. For instance, Michael's signature single, sequined glove was, Man in the Mirror explains, a way for the very self-conscious icon to cover the early stages of vitiligo, the pigmentary disorder that at least began the process by which the very dark skinned child Jackson became the very light skinned adult Jackson. An interesting hypothesis; unfortunately for Man in the Mirror's credibility we see Michael wearing the glove on different hands in several scenes, which means he was so self-conscious about his this disorder that he a)called extra attention to it by garbing it in the most garish item of clothing possible and then b)quickly became so disinterested with this obsession that he forgot which hand to cover.

Every shot of Jackson in concert appears to have been filmed on the same small stage, regardless of the venue or the time period, but, then, since Man in the Mirror doesn't contain a single note of Jackson's music, that's hardly the worst part of the concert sequences. Flex Alexander, the man with the thankless task of playing Michael approximates his dance moves, and does a remarkable voice imitation, but his acting is wooden and creepy, probably more creepy than the pro-Michael producers probably wanted. Maybe Flex had his own ideas about Michael's guilt or innocence.

The ironic thing is as much as the filmmakers excuse Michael, the more they indict him, even if only as really effed up weirdo instead of a really effed up weirdo prone to bouts of sexual assault on children. He creates his Neverland Ranch because he genuinely believes himself to be a child in the Peter Pan's image; he even calls Janet his Tinkerbell. When someone crosses him or betrays him, its not out of malice, its because they "don't believe" in Neverland and its magic and its power. Oh and all those cameras watching all the time aren't spying on you, small children left alone with eccentric billionaire: they're to keep you safe from danger! Yah, uh huh. And the "Jesus Juice" was medicinal too, doncha know.

Made in 2004, Man in the Mirror came out after Jackson's last round of indictments, but before he was cleared of the charges, so an uplifting, he's-not-so-bad-after-all message is a bit hard to come by. The filmmakers settle on the image of Jackson defiantly dancing on the roof of his car, supporters all around him cheering him on as he prepares to defend himself instead of simply paying off his accusers. People shout "We love you Michael" and stuff like that. People, this is called enabling. He'll never get the help he so obviously needs if you keep supporting his behavior. Think about if some random man accused of child molestation got on top of his car and started dancing after an indictment. He'd be found innocent, sure, but on the basis of mental instanity!

But enough about that. If we believe it, Man in the Mirror says Jackson's kind of a loon but everyone around him is a money-grubber, or a religious zealot, or an unloving father, or unloving wife, or unloving other wife, or unloving maid, or unloving random-guy-who-is-both-a-security-guard-and-agent. Everyone wants something from Michael, but Michael, innocent, terrifying manchild that he is, only wants for others. Weep, sob, cry.

And then laugh. A lot.


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