Metro Weekly

Review: HBO’s ‘Tina’ offers a candid look at the life of a legend

Tina Turner takes a graceful, perhaps final, bow recounting her life and superstardom in HBO's documentary "Tina."

tina turner
Tina Turner

For decades, Tina Turner set the template for high-energy female entertainers, generating gigawatts of rock and soul electricity across arenas and stadiums packed with thousands of fans reverberating love back to her. She gave all as a performer, onstage and on records, also sharing details of her journey in books, a film, and a Tony-nominated musical.

Now, at 81 and no longer performing, Turner appears ready to write the closing chapter of her public life, before riding off into the sunset with her true love, German music exec Erwin Bach. HBO’s moving documentary Tina (★★★★☆), directed by Oscar-winners Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin, puts us inside the room for interview #1, take one, in 2019 at the couple’s home in Zurich, as Turner sits to tell her story for what she hopes is one last time.

Elegant and composed, she narrates the oft-told tale of Anna Mae Bullock, born and raised in tiny Nutbush, Tennessee, from whence she escaped at 17, as star of the Ike & Tina Turner Revue. While success and fame beckoned, life with Ike, joyful and freeing at first, became a nightmare of violence and abuse. Only after discovering the centering peace and mindfulness of her Buddhist practice did she also finally find the wherewithal to leave Ike, fleeing with a suitcase and pocket change across a busy highway.

Turner’s harrowing early life story, including abandonment by both parents, has taken on a life unto itself, creating a feedback loop of trauma that haunted her every step. Turner admits in the film to paying a price for being so forthcoming. She had only committed to discussing her painful years with Ike as a means of putting that hell behind her — first, in a 1981 People magazine interview, an audio recording of which co-narrates in tandem with Turner’s contemporary sit-down.

tina turner
Tina Turner and the Ikettes

But no matter how far her path and career diverged from her ex-husband’s, the story always came back, as seen in a potent montage of interviewers tossing off cringe-inducing queries about the lowest moments of her life. Even at the height of her Private Dancer superstardom, seated next to Mel Gibson doing press for Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, an interviewer ambushes her with an inane Ike question. In another interview, you see her suddenly flush with sweat and tears, triggered by a particularly clumsy inquiry into her past.

The insensitivity is galling — and eyebrow-raising viewed through the post-Framing Britney Spears lens on media commentary. But Turner’s strength, poise, and patience, then and now, inspire. So do, of course, her simply amazing live performances, deployed generously here in a structure that plays like a musical. Not just a jukebox of hits, the movie pinpoints a performance to express every emotional high and low, including rarely seen concert footage of Tina singing “Respect” with Ike and the Ikettes, and blazing solo through a searing cover of “Help.”

Two of the biggest touchstones of her career, “Proud Mary” and “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” warrant their own chapters. And the movie dedicates its warmest section to showing Turner and Bach enjoying the happiness she fought so long to find. “She is absolutely adored,” proclaims Angela Bassett quite accurately. Still, it’s devastating to hear Turner declare that, despite all she’s accomplished, and what her music and her story have meant to so many, she believes “the goodness did not balance the bad.” Tina can’t change the past, but, with insight and compassion, the film does balance the good and bad in its depiction of an extraordinary life. And it hands a legend the stage to exit on her own terms.

Tina premieres Saturday, March 27 at 8 p.m. on HBO and HBOMax. Visit www.hbo.com.

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André Hereford covers arts and entertainment for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at ahereford@metroweekly.com. Follow him on Twitter at @here4andre.

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