DIRECTOR KEVIN MACDONALD
REVIEW CHRIS RIEMENSCHNEIDER
In becoming one of the top-selling pop singers of all time, Whitney Houstonâ€™s best-known songs were by design short and uplifting.
The new documentary on her life and especially her death, Whitney, is almost the polar opposite.
Itâ€™s long and ultra-depressing, but still quite compelling, too.
With hints of Houstonâ€™s decline sprinkled throughout the two-hour movie, it also doesnâ€™t have much of a happy beginning. Or middle, either.
Even the nostalgic flashbacks to giddy, colourful MTV videos and early 80s commercials at the start of the film â€” meant to take you back to the era of the singerâ€™s innocence-touting rise â€” are counterbalanced with bleak news snippets of Reagan inner-city poverty and drug abuse; a heavy-handed trick movie-wise but a juxtaposition that does reflect Houstonâ€™s life story.
Whitney is the work of Scottish filmmaker Kevin Macdonald, who crafted the excellent 2012 Bob Marley rock doc Marley after gaining fame with the 2006 drama The Last King of Scotland. He earned top-tier access to family members and inner-circle employees, who are interviewed amid clips of performances, home movies and interviews with Houston herself.
Macdonald even landed Bobby Brown. Unlike many of her admirably forthcoming family members, though, Houstonâ€™s much-derided ex-husband doesnâ€™t say much. He clams up at the mere mention of her drug addictions, claiming itâ€™s not part of the story. The drugs certainly play a big role here.
A couple of the movieâ€™s talkers mention how troubled Houston was by the tabloid reports and TMZ-style gossip that followed the ups and downs of her marriage and her then-still-alleged drug abuse. But the film goes down many of the same holes as the gossip hounds.
This is nothing new. Similar documentaries have explored the sad demises of Michael Jackson, Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix and Amy Winehouse, and you can bet there will be one or more on Prince before too long.
One of the things thatâ€™s to be applauded about Whitney is that it gives her the rock-star treatment and puts her up there with the big boys.
Sheâ€™s held up as one of the top-selling singers of her generation. Weâ€™re reminded of the enormity of her biracial romance with Kevin Costner in The Bodyguard and the mega-hit it produced, I Will Always Love You.
One of the things thatâ€™s to be applauded about Whitney is that it gives her the rock-star treatment and puts her up there with the big boys
More of her greatness would have been a worthy addition to the film, along with more insight into her off-stage personality. But the movie drags on as it tries to answer the simple question: What happened? The answer, of course, is complex. New allegations that Houston suffered sexual abuse from a family member as a child are brought up in the film.
Old rumours that she may have been a closeted lesbian are also addressed (Houstonâ€™s longtime confidante Robyn Crawford is the one person of note missing among the interviews).
The pain of being sued by her father is also deemed pivotal.
Whitney provides answers, including many hard ones, but it doesnâ€™t heal any wounds. At least her music can still serve that role.