In Lifetime’s An En Vogue Christmas, the funky divas — well, three of them: Terry Ellis, Cindy Herron and Rhona Bennett — come together for a special performance wrapped up in a reunion story. Young fan Kendall (Genelle Williams) asks the ladies to play a benefit concert to save her family’s club, The Opera House, where (in this telling) the group got its start. But a bad history with Kendall’s uncle Marty (David Alan Grier), the group’s former manager, almost sinks the deal (and ruins Christmas!).
The best moments in An En Vogue Christmas are, unsurprisingly, all about En Vogue. Williams and Grier do what they can with their meager narratives, but it’s when the ladies come together and start singing, or even just banter like the friends they are, that the movie really comes together.
An En Vogue Christmas doesn’t fully trust its audience to know, though, who En Vogue is (the group was formed in 1989 by Herron, with Ellis as the other mainstay, but hasn’t released an album since 2004). Thus, the movie is both a nostalgic reunion and a reminder of relevancy. But scenes that include several awkward, stilted references by minor characters to highlight past awards don’t exactly help. A new song, for instance, which premieres just before the credits roll, is an updated twist on En Vogue’s signature sound that doesn’t need characters popping up to declare, “This is a new song! And I love it!” Like the ladies, it stands — and grooves — on its own just fine.
As lightly fictionalized versions of themselves (mostly regarding their origins and home lives), Ellis, Herron and Bennett are each given small parts, but unfortunately, none of their stories (except Herron’s) really come together. Maybe it’s just because there are too many things going on; En Vogue should have been allowed to carry the movie on their own, especially since Kendall and Marty’s family drama never really adds anything but a framing device. A late “twist” that should be emotional doesn’t ultimately have much of an impact, except to help the show (thankfully) go on.
“You have a gift, don’t let the past keep you from sharing it,” a producer tells Terry. Don’t let the movie stop you, either. Giving fans a few clips from hits like “Hold On” and “Free Your Mind” (with accompanying choreography and dazzling ensembles) is great, but this is one case where less is not more. Ellis, Herron and Bennett all have an alluring magnetism that maximizes when they are together, so when An En Vogue Christmas drifts away from them and towards other characters, it loses some of its magic.
Still, as longtime performers, En Vogue may have achieved exactly what they wanted to with their Christmas special. After all is said and sung and done, it should leave viewers wanting more music from the trio. Hold on.