Hot Take: The imperfect life of the perfect voice of my generation. It’s an inspiring, cautionary and tragic tale of the life and death of Whitney Houston.
If Movie Hot Take existed in 1992, you’d be judging me for my unhealthy love of The Bodyguard, Whitney Houston’s debut film. Admittedly, it was more about the incredible soundtrack than the more pedestrian film but if it popped on television right now, I’d watch it from beginning to end. One of the most talented performers of the ’80s and ’90s, Houston’s meteoric rise and tragic fall lends itself to cinematic interpretation. The Lifetime movie already exists. (2015’s Whitney starred Yaya DaCosta as the pop diva and was directed by Angela Bassett.) Since the Lifetime movie treatment isn’t always the most endearing, it’s exciting to see director Kevin Macdonald give the worthy subject a documentary. Macdonald is no stranger to documentaries about music legends. In 2001, Macdonald helmed Being Mick about Mick Jagger and in 2012 chronicled the life of Bob Marley in Marley. In Macdonald’s proven, capable hands, the documentary Whitney provides an insightful, haunting portrait of a tragic figure gone too soon at the age of 48.
As a fan of her music, Whitney shows a handful of her iconic performances — her Super Bowl performance of the Star Spangled Banner in 1991 and her becoming the first major artist to appear in apartheid free South Africa the most notable — and it also details the soaring highs and heartbreaking lows of her life. From growing up in the church with mom Cissy Houston pushing her hard to harness her natural talent to the bidding war that landed her at Arista Records with Clive Davis to her record shattering music career to her public, tabloid friendly lifestyle filled with scandals and struggles with drugs that eventually led to her death in 2012. The film is never heavy handed and even at 2 hours never feels like it paints the complete picture despite the bombshell that she was molested as a child by a female relative. Whitney gets especially selective detailing the later years of her career. It covers her primetime Diane Sawyer interview in 2002 where she proclaimed “Crack is wack” but doesn’t touch the Being Bobby Brown reality show years or her 2009 interview with Oprah where she admitted to drug usage during her marriage with Brown.
Even if it were incomplete, Whitney is a compelling look at one of the biggest pop stars of her generation. For the rabid fan, it is unlikely to add much new to her tale. It does add color though featuring access to family and friends and countless interviews throughout stock footage of the highlights and lowlights of her career. For the casual fan, this documentary will be more meaty. There’s probably enough material to fill 4 hours though there’s enough here to provide a tantalizing look at the pop star’s tragic life. Macdonald’s choices to leave out some of the more known aspects of Houston’s story in favor of the content used works well. It makes the film feel like a more level headed approach to a story that could easily get out of hand.
While not at the level of Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Whitney adds a second documentary to the cinema. At 454 theaters, it might be tough to find at your local cinema. Like the Mr. Rogers documentary, it is unlikely to escape the Houston documentary with dry eyes, too. There’s joy in the film, too, as Houston’s amazing voice and her passion for singing is given the opportunity to shine often throughout the movie and will lead you to adding a few songs to your playlist, I’m sure.
Even with the bitter sweet memories, you will always love Whitney.
I’m not sure why but it’s your prerogative.