Given the seeming multitude of Marvin Gaye biopics chasing after financing (I know of at least three separate projects that have been soliciting screenplays as far back as 2002), it was only a matter of time before one finally cobbled together the requisite funds to get up and shooting. And when it comes to African-American musicians, it’s always about scrambling for dough; the studios might distribute (as they did with Ray), but they’re not going to risk jack shit unless the names “Michael” and “Jackson” are involved. Or “Def” and “Jef”.
Lauren Goodman’s Sexual Healing has been close to production several times, but it took an extra push from James Gandolfini to put it over. Obviously (and unfortunately), Gandolfini won’t be playing Gaye; instead, he’ll co-star as Freddy Cousaert, a promoter who assisted in the crooner’s early 80s comeback LP, Midnight Love. Jesse L. Martin is still attached to play Gaye, and, if nothing else, he certainly looks the part. Who’s to say he won’t be great? Let an actor obsess over a role for several years, and they might pull off something revelatory.
On one hand, there’s something refreshing about Goodman’s insistence on telling just one part of Gaye’s story. But choosing the most tragic segment (even with the brief redemption) bothers me; there’s so much more to Gaye than Midnight Love (which, “Sexual Healing” aside, ain’t that great an album). How do you get at the soul of Gaye without dramatizing the death of Tammi Terrell or the triumph of What’s Going On? I’m not saying I want another straightforward music biopic, but something a little more ambitious would be nice.
Still, Sexual Healing is a start, and I hope Goodman’s got the chops to pull it off (I know absolutely nothing of her work). Gandolfini will produce along with Alexandra Ryan, Ayo Davis, Efuru Flowers and Roger Haber. Principal photography starts on April 15th.