By Leslie C. Halpern
This emotionally gripping documentary about the personal and professional life of the late Whitney Houston strives to present a balanced depiction of the six-time Grammy winner’s rise and fall from stardom.
Comparisons to 2017’s Nick Broomfield and Rudi Dolezal documentary, Whitney: Can I Be Me are inevitable. The newer film covers the same ground of Whitney’s ghetto beginnings, vocal training by her mother, singing with the church choir, meteoric rise to fame, marriage to Bobby Brown, and fall from grace – along with the family, friends, and lovers along the way.
The new film, Whitney also brings up the long-whispered rumors of bisexuality, but drops a bombshell late in the film that was previously unknown to the general public: Whitney was the victim of childhood sexual abuse by a relative. Through compassionate storytelling and precise editing, we learn of Whitney’s self-described demons that have haunted her dreams since her youth when she was known as “Nippy,” instead of by her given name, Whitney.
It’s apparent from her self-destructive behavior during the final two decades of her life (she died at age 48 from drowning in a bathtub while under the influence of drugs and alcohol) that inner demons plagued her waking hours as well. Those closest to the singer, her mother (Cissy Houston), aunt (Mary Jones), ex-husband (Bobby Brown), her two brothers, her hairstylist, and others share their memories about her talent and troubles.
Combining archival footage, original interviews, backstage home movies, and rare performances, this documentary offers a variety of viewpoints that go beyond her obvious talent and beauty. The film also is a tribute to the early 1980’s zeitgeist with commercials, news reports, and pop culture influences depicting the years when Whitney made headlines for her accomplishments, such as a starring role in The Bodyguard, rather than her later drug use, fights with her husband, and failed attempts to reignite her career.
While friends, family, and fans can argue over whether her tragic downfall and death came from drug abuse, the pressures of fame, Bobby Brown’s influence, sexual identity conflicts, childhood sexual abuse, or a combination of these elements, nearly everyone can agree Whitney Houston had an extraordinarily beautiful voice and exceptional range that deservedly took her to the top of the charts. Whitney answers most questions about the singer’s life, but like every good documentary also raises new ones.
- This documentary reveals never-before-seen footage of the late Whitney Houston, both on-stage and behind the scenes for a glamorous and gritty look at the singer’s life.
- Stars: Whitney Houston (archive footage), Bobby Brown, Bobbi Kristina Brown (archive footage), Cissy Houston, Clive Davis, Gary Houston, Mary Jones, Robyn Crawford (archive footage)
- Director: Kevin Macdonald
- Genre: Documentary
- Run Time: 120 minutes
- MPAA Rating: R (for language and drug content)