As much of a film lover as I am. The world of documentaries is an up and up genre for me. I’m very picky in what documentaries I indulge myself in. I’ve been lucky that the documentaries that I have seen, have all been excellent to which I actually went out and bought them on Blu Ray. Today I came across the trailer for a new documentary film “Whitney”, from Scottish academy award winning filmmaker Kevin MacDonald (“The Last King Of Scotland”). The trailer was well cut together and had me aching to view the film. I grabbed myself a copy and It’s documentaries like this, that make me appreciate documentaries. This is hands down one of the best films of the year.
It has been six years since we lost the greatest voice of our generation, perhaps any generation. Despite knowing how her life tragically ends, it’s not hard when watching MacDonald’s film to hope for a happy ending. Kevin Macdonald’s documentary “Whitney” is brilliant, in depth, entertaining, no holds barred but heartbreakingly devastating. MacDonald maps Whitney Houston’s meteoric rise to fame, her tumultuous relationship with Bobby Brown, her continuous battles with drug addiction, and the downfall which led to her untimely death in a Beverly Hills Hotel bathtub at the age of 48.
Macdonald hits you in the stomach right from the opening moments of his documentary and never eases up.
“Whitney” documents Houston as a broken, tormented soul who was exhausted by the pressure of decades in the brightest of spotlights, troubled romantic and family relationships, and years of drug abuse that ravaged her body so skinny you could see her bones and to destroying her voice. But when Whitney was at the top of her game, lord could Whitney sing, she could light up a room, an arena, anywhere she went with her breathtaking beauty and her 1000 watt smile and her effortless charisma.
We’ve heard Houston’s story before in countless TV segments, a forgettable Lifetime biopic in 2015 and a solid, downbeat documentary by Nick Broomfield called “Whitney: Can I Be?” from last year. But “Whitney” offers the most comprehensive and intimate portrait anyone could present. It’s thanks in large part to Macdonald’s unprecedented access and with participation from Houston’s family members and close associates. Kevin Macdonald cuts deep into Whitney’s tortured psyche. He plays detective by pulling up a lot of old footage and insider details and gives us the most extensive film about someone’s life. Macdonald and his editor Sam Rice-Edwards expertly drops in snippets of extraordinarily candid interviews with Bobby Brown, Whitney’s mother Cissy; Whitney’s half-brothers Michael and Gary, acting icon Kevin Costner who was Whitney’s co-star in “The Bodyguard”; and her sister-in-law Pat who is executor of Whitney’s estate and a producing partner on the film. Being notably absent from the roster of interviewees is Houston’s best friend, longtime employee and rumored love interest, Robyn Crawford. On more than one interview it is confirmed of their lesbian relationship.
Houston’s half-brothers acknowledge they did a whole lot of partying while spending years on Whitney’s payroll. Actor, director and musician Kevin Costner talks about how “The BodyGuard”, made an impact at the time and describes one scene in particular that changed how an African American woman would run and kiss the white hero at the end of the movie. Bobby Brown does make an appearance, but is in denial as he refuses to answer questions about Whitney’s addictions and says drugs had nothing to do with her life. Um…they had everything to do with her death, dude. Whitney was found face down in a hotel bathtub with cocaine in her system.
The most shocking revelation comes late in the film, which hasn’t been revealed before. What we hear makes it all the more tragic when we hear the details unfold. MacDonald also brings to light how Whitney and Bobby abandoned their daughter for long stretches, or take on their life of partying in front of her. Bobbi Kristina Brown showed no evidence or suggestion they physically abused their her, although the neglect and carelessness is unquestioned and devastating. Three years after her mother’s death, Bobbi Kristina Brown was found face down in a bathtub in her home. She passed away after being in a coma for nearly six months. Watching “Whitney,” you feel from the very day she was brought home from the hospital that the girl never had a chance.
MacDonald gives us goose bumps by giving us Houston’s best performances on dated MTV shows and Houston in concert. Seeing the footage of Houston in her prime we see how easy it was to fall in love with her with home-movie footage of Whitney backstage, Whitney joking around with family, friends and in relatively unguarded moments. MacDonald even gives us incredible footage of Whitney backstage after another sold-out performance. Her mother tells her to ignore the recent successes of Janet Jackson and Paula Abdul and to keep being Whitney. Houston agrees and says of Abdul, “Mama Paula Abdul ain’t sh**, they brought her into the studio and she can’t keep a f***ing note”.
“Whitney” benefits from a full support by Houston’s family with frank and revealing interviews, that help viewers better understand Houston’s inner conflicts. We learn how she was introduced to the drugs that would ultimately destroy her, how substance use impacted her career and her family, and how those around her enabled her to continue. Even Houston’s hearty sexual appetite for both genders is discussed. “Whitney” offers a film that is both a career retrospective, but also a portrait of a life out of balance. It’s truly heartbreaking what one of the most beloved voices had went through and how it all came to a crashing end. This is an incredibly made film and one of the year’s best films.
GRADE: ★★★★★ OUT OF ★★★★★