First Impressions – a review by Kerry Hennigan, June 2017

Before watching this Lifetime tele-movie based on the book ‘Remember the Time: Protecting Michael Jackson in His Final Days’ by Bill Whitfield and Javon Beard with Tanner Colby, I had not only read the book (some time ago) but seen numerous excerpts, previews and promos for the film itself.

I’ve also met its star, Navi, a couple of times on visits to London for MJ events, so I kind of knew what to expect from him, too.  Navi loves Michael Jackson, and he also makes a living impersonating him.  I don’t doubt he took part in this project with the very best intentions for Michael’s legacy.

I thought Navi did an excellent job, despite not being a professional actor and having a British accent.  Like anyone playing a famous historical person, we need to put aside expectations of the actor being able to create anything more than an impression of that person.  The rest is just ‘smoke and mirrors’ (i.e. hair, make-up, costumes etc).

Still, Navi’s is a reasonable impression for the most part, and in rare moments, appearance wise, it’s quite uncanny.  But there are times when play-acting Michael Jackson becomes too much like a parody regardless of the best intentions.  The same is true when tribute artists attempt to represent MJ in a live performance.  It’s a fine line, and a difficult balancing act for anyone.

While this is a better bio-pic than anything we’ve seen previously (which is not saying very much, let’s face it) that doesn’t mean the bodyguards’ book and the film ‘Searching for Neverland’ are a true depiction of Michael or his family.

One of the glaring omissions from the film is any hint that Michael was continuing to work on his music once he arrived back in the US.  We are left thinking that he wasn’t working at all, while continuing to spend money seemingly heedless of unpaid bills (and wages).  This just isn’t true, as anyone who has heard his musical collaborator and friend Brad Buxer interviewed, can confirm.  Michael was working on new music while living in Las Vegas, and on songs like ‘Best of Joy’ right up to the end.

Because the period when Michael was in rehearsals for ‘This Is It’ in LA occurred after the period covered by the book and film, at no time do we have a chance to factor in Michael’s insistence on creating his greatest ever show for the O2 engagement.  Or the fact that, as it started to come together and he regained some of his self-confidence and love of performing, he began talking to his team about taking the show around the world.

If anyone was driving Michael Jackson hard, it was Michael Jackson himself.  We know he could never settle for anything less than perfection in his art.  Remember, this is the man who said: “Work like there’s no tomorrow.  Train.  Strive.  Really train and cultivate your talent to the highest degree.” (1)  This is an image completely at odds with the picture we are given via the bodyguards of Michael as a tragic figure -which I reject.  Nor do I believe he was the agent of his own demise, despite how hard he pushed himself.

Yes, he was haunted by the false accusations, emotionally and physically shattered by the gruelling 2005 trial, hounded by the media everywhere, and misguided in some of the people he trusted to look after his business and his money.  He was human, after all.

But, getting back to ‘Searching for Neverland’ – some curious aspects of Grace’s behaviour that were mentioned in the book have been left out of the movie, which has me wondering if they had decided for some reason to purposely sideline her character. There’s quite a bit in the book about Grace that is absent from the film.

Also absent (from both) is the third bodyguard, Mike Garcia, who disassociated himself from the book (2) and, more recently, the movie.

I could go on at length about the things I think could have been in the film – and in the book.  But it is the bodyguards’ viewpoint after all, and we need to remember they weren’t necessarily privy to everything that Michael did when they weren’t required to be by his side.  We should also expect a degree of ‘dramatization’.  Others have taken their doubts considerably further, however, in terms of the book’s so-called ‘revelations’. (3)

Another, and more important factor, is Dr. Murray’s responsibilities as Michael’s personal physician.  While Murray’s engagement in this role occurred outside the period of Whitfield and Beard’s time working with Michael, the film leaves the matter open to conjecture as to whether Murray was the cause of Michael’s death.

In my mind, there’s no doubt.

In talking about the film with a friend before either of us had seen it, I stated my belief that I didn’t think ‘Searching for Neverland’ was anything for us fans to worry about in terms of its impact on Michael’s legacy.  Now that I’ve seen it, I can say there are some aspects I am uncomfortable with… as was true for the book.

lifetime posterIn terms of the film, for us fans, Navi can never be completely convincing as Michael Jackson (irrespective of his accent) simply because he isn’t Michael; and the bodyguards’ version of events is just one of several that surfaced after the tragedy of 25 June 2009 which we have digested, debated and found incomplete or unconvincing in the years since then.

In the end, it doesn’t matter.  ‘Searching for Neverland’ is just a TV movie, and probably not the last one to be made about Michael Jackson.  We can expect more in the years ahead, and not all are likely to be as ‘benevolent’ as this one, or Michael portrayed by someone who cares about their idol as much as Navi does.

Having said that, though, I have to admit that, like reading the book, watching the film once is probably enough for me.  For the time being at least, my curiosity has been sufficiently satisfied.

Kerry Hennigan
4 June 2017

Navi talks about Michael:

(1) Michael Jackson “Moonwalk”


(3) by Belinda O.

Photos: Navi as Michael Jackson in ‘Michael Jackson: Searching for Neverland’ Lifetime (2017) (USA) (TV) (cable)