The performers Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus earn your empathy in the documentary “Milli Vanilli,” a jolting, eye-opening investigation on how fame destroyed them. The war-of-words film, directed by Luke Korem, unfolds like a whodunit.
The film retraces the bonkers events of Morvan and Pilatus’s naïve rise to the top in the late 1980s as Milli Vanilli, the image-forward pop duo who secretly lip-synced prerecorded songs to live audiences. Their hits included “Girl You Know It’s True” and “Baby Don’t Forget My Number.”
At first, the duo needed money to escape poverty, but their celebrity status kept them hooked, and their German producer, Frank Farian, held the bait.
And then, the documentary revisits their fall: During a live performance on MTV in 1989, the song started to skip, exposing them as frauds. In 1998, Pilatus died of an overdose. “I lost my sobriety and every sense of reality,” we hear him say in the film.
Impressively, Korem gets those who ran the business side of Milli Vanilli, including officials at Arista Records, to spill the juicy details on what actually happened to the duo: Morvan and Pilatus became Farian and the label’s scapegoats. As presented here, it’s easy to see how this could be the basis for a horror film by Jordan Peele.
Morvan is the heart of the documentary; he reflects on the group’s past treatment (he thinks they deserved that revoked Grammy) and raises still-relevant questions about the way the music industry exploits vulnerable performers. Charles Shaw, one of the real singers behind Milli Vanilli, says that Farian, who also worked with the group Boney M., “made most of his money on Black artists, and it worked.”
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 46 minutes. Watch on Paramount+.