When Ann Jillian starred in her own overcoming-adversity autobiopic in 1988, it seemed to make sense. For one thing, the woman was a real actress. For another, she was 38 and had lived some real life before contracting breast cancer and undergoing a devastating double mastectomy.
Jillian’s role in “The Ann Jillian Story” earned her a Golden Globe win as well as an Emmy nomination. Contrast this with Lifetime’s “The Fantasia Barrino Story: Life Is Not a Fairy Tale,” based on a best-selling bio and starring Barrino as Barrino. Yes, she endured a string of jerky guys, a pregnancy (following an alleged rape), single motherhood at age 17, grinding poverty and the burden of going through life with a name taken from a Disney movie before winning on “American Idol.” Great stuff. But she’s also 22. To say that Barrino’s story is incomplete is the essence of understatement.
Oh, one other problem: Barrino can’t act. She’s very sweet and all, but she tends to gobble her words and expresses range by lowering her eyes, as if the answer to life lay somewhere at her feet. So while it’s an interesting idea to try to tell the tale of a life in progress through the woman living that life, the capacity to convey a certain depth of emotion on cue would seem to be a minimum prerequisite. And Barrino obviously tries hard but can’t pull it off, no matter how much director Debbie Allen tries to drill it into her. The result is an assortment of awkwardly delivered cliches in search of a greater purpose that it never quite finds.