The Temptations (1998)


One of the highlights of growing up with parents that loved classic soul and R&B, was listening to some of the greatest bands of all time. My favorite of them all was The Temptations, a wonderful group of singers with one of the more compelling back stories of all time. Though I’m usually not a fan of biography films about bands or musicians in general, “The Temptations” garners an immense cast of strong actors, all of whom help fuel what is a tale about fame, greed, and clashing egos. It’s just a shame that the movie breezes through some crucial details.

Maybe it’s for the purposes of retaining the persona of Otis Williams, or just for brevity sake, but there’s just so much details left out, you’re never quite sure of the hows and whys. And the movie never bothers to supply the hows and whys. Like how and why did Otis end up having an affair on his wife on the road? How and why did Paul Williams become so addicted to alcohol? Was it his nerves? Peer pressure? Did he feel it gave him a better freedom as a singer on stage? And what fueled David Ruffin to become a horribly despicable drug addicted egomaniac, when he’s initially depicted as a humble performer with a brilliant voice? What was the transition?

And what inspired him to believe he was the Temptations’ only real path to fame? It’s almost as if the audience is expected to understand why he became such a difficult person. If you’ve only heard the music from the Temptations, then it’s tough to follow. There’s also the subtext that Otis Williams dominated the Temptations, somewhat deciding their futures, but it’s never really touched upon or explored since the movie itself is based on his original novel. In any case, “The Temptations” is a strong mini series, however flawed it may be. It chronicles the initial impact the band had on American music, and how they worked as a unit of creative performers. There’s also some interesting drama in the group as their shake ups of leading singers prompted many fights and violent confrontations.

One of the more shocking moments involve Ruffin being banned from singing in a concert and interjecting at the last moment to steal a performance of “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.” For all of its evident flaws, “The Temptations” is one of the more engrossing biography films about the musical giants that were the Temptations, while the overall level of performances varies from solid to impressive. Plus, the movie garners the musical library from the group, which helps accentuate the turmoil bubbling within the performers’ core. With much more coherence and fluidity to it, “The Temptations” could very well have been a masterpiece. Instead, it’s a solid bio-pic that I’m hoping is handled better in the future.