Tina displays a life driven by luck, circumstance and certainly by willpower. That simplicity won’t sit well with all viewers of the new HBO Max documentary, but there’s a wonderful kind of simplicity in how the life of Tina Turner is expressed here—defeating racial and class oppression, escaping a 16-year abusive relationship and an astonishing comeback in her middle age, even as most artists of the time dealt with an expiration date.
Anna Mae Bullock (Turner's birth name) didn't accept dismissal, but felt and still feels like her career is often defined by her relationship with her abusive ex, Ike Turner. It's ironic, then, that Tina's main focus is that very relationship, given her vocal frustration. Her complaints about the involuntary definition aren't missing from the story, but directors Dan Linsday and TJ Martin (who previously helmed the acclaimed documentary LA 92) bet on audiences forgiving them on that point. They've structured the film for people who know Turner by name but couldn't say much else about her. Therefore, it's natural they'd focus on the trauma that so defined her life; even if you're not an expert on Turner by the end, you'll know why you should celebrate her.
That modern documentary feel—subjects distant in the frame, title fonts reminding you of clothing brands, snap-fast editing—is certainly here, but beyond style, Tina shimmers in the larger world that built its subject. She self-describes as a girl from the cotton fields, bringing forth fantastic slower moments of rural Tennessee, complete with the fields and shuttered town fronts that still stand, though are a little worse for wear. Without heavy exposition, the imagery of the Black American experience in the South illustrates much of what you need to know about what Turner defeated.
Tina could have benefitted from a trim and tighter focus, and a little less reliance on pathos. Still, there's so much love for Turner here that we're spared a tribute concert and get a real, well-paced narrative that truly feels euphoric. And while Linsday and Martin don't much delve into all the subjects that feel worthwhile (Turner's conversion to Nichiren Buddhism is glossed over), one has to give credit for the unabashed adoration on screen.
+ Engaging and joyful; great pacing and editing
– Could benefit from losing 10-15 minutes
Directed by Dan Linsday and TJ Martin
HBO Max, NR, 118 min.