Addressing the film’s overall takeaway, Listermann told Billboard, “Idolized and criticized, Chris has been through more scrutiny than anyone I’ve ever met. He’s also caused a lot of the issues that he’s gone through, which he admits in the film. And that’s what this film is about: He’s admitting the things he’s done wrong and lessons learned. At the end of the day, he’s human.”
Noting that the most difficult part of the process was cutting down all the footage that was shot, director Sandler expressed hope that Brown fans and naysayers will “sit back and really watch the film without judging and try to understand Chris’ perspective of living in the spotlight. Filmmaking is about peeling back layers and telling a story that’s never been heard before.”
And Welcome to My Life does just that. Featuring interviews with family members, friends and supporters including Usher, DJ Khaled, Mary J. Blige, Jennifer Lopez and Mike Tyson, as well as Brown himself, the film takes viewers on a journey from the Grammy winner’s Tappahannock, Virginia, childhood through his meteoric rise as a pop/R&B phenomenon to his equally dramatic downfall.
Along the way, they will watch Brown talk transparently about his passion for singing and dancing, his courtship of Rihanna and what really happened that fateful night of the Clive Davis pre-Grammy party, as well as his subsequent skirmishes with the law. Complementing the dialogue is concert and backstage footage, family photos and other behind-the-scenes access.
Spotted in the house for Welcome to My Life’s L.A. premiere were Sean “Diddy” Combs, Tyga, Jhené Aiko, Brown’s attorney Mark Geragos and event host Terrence J -- with the latter two also appearing in the documentary. After the screening, Brown’s mother Joyce Hawkins shared her thoughts about the film. “It’s not easy watching my son grow into a man with the whole world judging him,” she told Billboard. “He is not an angel or the devil. I hope this documentary will balance the negativity that follows him as his God-given talents continue to mature.”
From the red carpet, an exuberant Brown -- who brought 3-year-old daughter Royalty to the premiere -- boiled down the documentary’s three years of filming into one word: growth. “Everybody has to look in the mirror and be OK with themselves,” he elaborated. “At this point, I had to get right with myself, learn, and then from there just be OK with being me. Then it’s to do what I came here to do: music. That’s the real reason why I’m here.”
Whether a Brown fan or critic, Welcome to My Life provides revealing insights about the artist and the person and is definitely worth seeing. Here are four takeaways:
Transparent … but not all the way: That was the reaction overheard from one fan after the screening. While the documentary takes viewers up to Brown’s new chapter as a father, critics will feel it skips a few things along the way. The fracases with Frank Ocean and Drake are talked about, as are Brown’s glass-breaking outburst on the set of Good Morning America, his stints in county jail and rehab, plus his relationship with ex-girlfriend Karrueche. But there’s no talk about the 2014 1OAK shooting incident involving Suge Knight and subsequent lawsuits; former girlfriend Karrueche’s push for a restraining order; or the legal status in the wake of Brown’s 2016 standoff with police after allegedly pointing a gun in a model’s face at his home.
Never-before-seen footage: The finished film -- initially anticipated for release two years ago -- features 80 percent new footage, including video of Brown going to and appearing in court. “The cameras were with him from up through the closure of his probation period,” says Listermann. And with producer Sandler noting that various scenes “hit the cutting-room floor,” perhaps that footage encompasses some of the missing links above and will be part of the future surprises mentioned by Listermann.
The film’s hardest scene to watch: Usually at any movie screening, someone can be heard talking. And before and during this screening, fans kept shouting “We love you, Chris.” But you truly could hear the proverbial pin drop when Brown -- sitting on a chair alone in a brick-walled room - details the sweet beginnings of his and Rihanna’s budding relationship and the chilling assault that ensued the night before the Grammys in 2009. It will also raise questions again about who the other girl was who texted Brown that night, triggering the assault. “I went from being on top of the world, kind of like America’s sweetheart, to being public enemy No. 1 … I felt like a f---ing monster,” Brown says during the segment.
There’s still no denying Brown’s magic onstage: Several of Brown’s memorable performances are spotlighted, including his table-hopping 2007 MTV Video Music Awards highlight and his tribute to Michael Jackson at the 2010 BET Awards. “No matter what you think about Chris Brown,” Jamie Foxx says in the film, “when he starts to dance and sing, he has that light, that fire.”