Whitney, the new documentary about Whitney Houston has it all. Star power, incredible performances, heroes and villains, a sexual abuse bombshell, and the self-destruction and ultimate tragic death of its subject. But its greatest flaw is that it feels like her family and inner circle had way too much control over what went into this big documentary. And its most glaring deficiency is that Robyn Crawford, Whitney’s best friend, probable lover, and seemingly the only person who cared about her well-being rather than her success, was not interviewed. Nonetheless, what you’re left with is a documentary that kept reminding me of Amy, the Amy Winehouse documentary, where you know the sad outcome and you really just want to know why someone with so much talent would kill herself.
What Oscar-winning filmmaker Kevin Macdonald (One Day in September) does is walk you through the many reasons that could be at the root of Houston’s downfall. There’s the mother who was never there. Cissy Houston was on the road performing with the likes of Elvis and Aretha, and left the kids with other people, one of whom probably molested several of them, including 8-year-old Whitney. And there’s the father she adored who it turned out was more interested in her money than her health and happiness. Like Winehouse’s daddy, he nixed much-needed rehab for his daughter. And there’s the marriage to Bobby Brown, who enabled her drug habit, claimed it had nothing to do with her life, and envied her world-wide success. And to top it off, there was the loss of her friend/lover Robyn who left when she couldn’t abide the people who were abusing Whitney. It’s a familiar train wreck that has taken too many talented performers. And at the end, there is simply no explanation for her death. It’s like Macdonald is serving up a dozen reasons and saying, “Just chose one.”
Fortunately, along the way in this somewhat too long but tragic tale, there’s a lot of great music, reminding me why I played my Whitney Houston album to death when she arrived on the scene in 1985. Her music was fun and beautiful and she really was one of the most talented singers ever. Days after seeing the film, you’ll still have her songs running through your head. I recommend it to fans of her music and fans of great music. It should be seen somewhere with a great sound system.
[Mainstream Chick’s take: I was somewhat fascinated by this documentary even though – as Arty Chick says – it runs a bit too long. It’s hard to watch someone with such talent slowly self-destruct, and even harder to comprehend how her daughter would come to meet a similar tragic fate. The documentary does a decent job of laying out a whole bunch of reasons Whitney became her own worst enemy – and how a whole bunch of people failed her along the way. Hearing from Whitney herself is particularly powerful. Ultimately, it’s the music that makes this documentary sing. From her earliest performances in the church choir to her belting of “The Greatest Love of All” to her iconic rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner”, she truly held the power to move people. If only she’d been able to hold on and overcome her demons…]