Cast: Whitney Houston, Bobby Brown, Bobbi Kristina Brown, Cissy Houston
Director: Kevin MacDonald
Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes: Whitney Houston broke more music industry records than any other female singer in history. With over 200 million album sales worldwide, she was the only artist to chart seven consecutive U.S. No. 1 singles. She also starred in several blockbuster movies before her brilliant career gave way to erratic behavior, scandals and death at age 48. The documentary feature Whitney is an intimate, unflinching portrait of Houston and her family that probes beyond familiar tabloid headlines and sheds new light on the spellbinding trajectory of Houston’s life. Using never-before-seen archival footage, exclusive demo recordings, rare performances, audio archives and original interviews with the people who knew her best, Oscar (R)-winning filmmaker Kevin Macdonald unravels the mystery behind “The Voice,” who thrilled millions even as she struggled to make peace with her own troubled past.
I am very pleased that 2018 so far has been the summer of the documentary. From American Animals using documentary-style interviews to inject a sense of realism into the plot, to Won’t You Be My Neighbor? showing us how one man’s kindness and generosity can change a generation, things have been looking good for documentaries. So, how does Whitney compare with these other fantastic movies? While the other films either showed a complex group of people from a rather comedic point of view or how a man we all universally love, Whitney takes a different approach with its method. When speaking about someone so influential in the world, but yet so tragically flawed, it takes a certain level of care and precision to navigate the rise and fall of one of the biggest pop stars of the 20th century. Fortunately, MacDonald handles this topic with the necessary care that makes you appreciate the work that Houston did for the world and makes the ending that much more tragic.
The film chronicles the life of Whitney Houston from her early childhood, to her rise as the biggest pop star in the world, to her struggles with drug abuse and an abusive marriage, to her attempts to rid herself of those issues and be the person she was in the past, and finally her untimely passing. This timeline is supported by home videos of Whitney doing regular things with her friends and family and behind-the-scenes videos from performances and interviews that show us what she was like when the world was not watching her. These videos are supported by interviews with family members and close friends, who provide insight into the way Whitney felt when all of these events were happening. One of the initial things that stands out is just how natural the storyline feels. There is almost no directorial narration and the story flows so smoothly from one point in Whitney’s life to another. This is also a 120 minute documentary, but based on the subject matter and the people involved, it never felt like it was ever dragging. Regarding what I learned about Whitney from the film, the interviews from her family members provided me with facts about her that I did not previously know as well as information on why she acted the way that she did. Bobby Brown’s interview infuriated me, and I do not believe that the filmmakers could have done anything differently with him when he refused to cooperate. When he was asked about Whitney’s drug issues, he refused to talk about them because, “they have nothing to do with Whitney,” and that is the last interview he gives in the movie. After there are multiple interviews from family members describing all the terrible things that Bobby was responsible for in Whitney’s life, this would have been a great opportunity for him to defend himself or give us new information about a rather public situation, but instead he came across like a scumbag who helped bring down one of the most talented singers in the world. There are two areas that I believe film could have ironed things out a little better, but they are not major concerns. The first is that I would have liked to have seen some resolution on the storyline between Whitney and Robyn after Robyn had been fired and had not spoken for years. I would have liked to have seen that come to a nice conclusion, but we ultimately did not get that closure. The other is that a detail about Whitney’s family life emerges at the end of the film, and I felt like there might have been a better place to put it in the film. It is a very important detail, and to have it sprung onto us at the end feels a little cheap. The film is a few minor changes away from being one of the best, but is still incredible in its own right.
Overall, you can see the amount of care and love that was put into this film based on the reactions during the interviews. Seeing the moments of true, raw emotion from the likes of people like Cissy and other family members breaking down in tears as they describe the impact that Whitney and Bobbi had and how tragic their story is. Whitney captures this emotion in the same way that Whitney captured the hearts of millions around the world.
Overall Score: 8.5/10