Last Saturday night’s Lifetime TV movie The Fantasia Barrino Story: Life Is Not a Fairy Tale — yes, they really made a biopic about an American Idol champ — might at first seem like a curio worth mocking in the tradition of Glitter or Cool as Ice. But Fantasia’s odd and affecting squeaky-voiced performance wiped the smirk off my face.
In front of Fox cameras during season three of the gigantor reality show, Fantasia’s aching, soaring “Summertime” may still be the finest performance anybody’s given on that stage. Watching her play herself in a movie about her life — a bizarre job for even a seasoned thespian — I felt as if I were unnaturally peering in on some incredibly private lows. She reenacted scenes of rape and its aftermath, a young, husbandless pregnancy, disappointing the mother and grandmother who also had children early, and stealing to feed her child. This was no transformed star going through the motions of a world she’d easily left behind. With that heartbreaking clutch that can sometimes come only from untrained actors, Fantasia — her bobbing performance style chilled to a zombie-ish lurch, her scratchy singing voice now a throttled gurgle, and real tears from those sad eyes — turned a few crucial scenes in a clichéd, otherwise shabby cable movie into a vivid, poignant reminder of when she felt most trapped by fate (aided by the great Viola Davis as her mother). And damned if it didn’t make the recycled footage of her Idol win at the end even more moving this time around.