The actual singers and rappers whose voices you hear on all those huge late-‘80s hits appear here to share their wild tales, and some remain understandably bitter. While Farian himself doesn’t speak on camera, we hear a great deal from his right-hand woman, Ingrid Segieth, who facilitated the ruse every step of the way and became romantically involved with Rob. Segieth breaks down at the memory of discovering Rob dead in a German hotel room in 1998 at age 33 after years of heavy drug abuse, depression, and legal troubles, but Korem never really presses her on her crucial role in creating and perpetuating the hoax that would become his downfall. Similarly, we see veteran record executives claim that the legendary Clive Davis knew Milli Vanilli was a sham while they were artists at Artista Records—which Davis has always denied—but the film ultimately leaves that notion dangling.
Korem is more successful at vividly revisiting a moment in pop culture history, from the shrieking crowds to the screaming magazine covers and, eventually, the derisive one-liners from the late-night talk show hosts. He includes a clip of the major hiccup that occurred during a stop on the Club MTV Tour when the track skipped while the duo was performing in Bristol, Connecticut, causing Rob to flee backstage in panic. (At age 16, I actually saw Milli Vanilli in “concert” as part of this tour, alongside Paula Abdul and Information Society, in August 1989 at The Forum in Los Angeles. “Girl I’m Gonna Miss You” made me sob as I prepared to leave my boyfriend, Glen McIntyre, behind and head off to college. It was a time!)
The retelling of events that would become Milli Vanilli’s ultimate undoing—an eager and unsuspecting assistant manager thinking it would be a good idea to submit them for Grammy consideration—emerges as a thrilling and stomach-turning adventure. Cutaways to the likes of Ozzy Osbourne rolling their eyes in the Grammy Awards audience at the sight of Rob and Fob obviously lip-synching are hilarious and sad at once. You end up feeling sorry for these guys who were so in over their heads—even when meteoric fame went to their heads, and particularly when they won a Best New Artist prize they didn’t even begin to deserve and soon had to return.
Despite the humiliation and suffering on display, “Milli Vanilli” ends on an unexpected note of uplift, one that Fabrice Morvan actually hits as a legitimate singer these days.
On Paramount+ now.