Directed by Kevin Macdonald
Starring – Whitney Houston, Bobby Brown, Bobbi Kristina Brown
The Plot – 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.
Rated R for adult language and drug content
– Academy Award Winning filmmaker Kevin Macdonald makes documentaries the way they should be made. I have seen some criticize Macdonald’s movements in this film as being too invasive, but he’s someone who I value as a filmmaker because he isn’t swayed by the celebrity of the topic, no matter how big the person or thing he is covering. ‘Whitney’ is most certainly his crowning jewel, unveiling truth after sobering truth about inherited mental distress that played a heavy hand in her eventual undoing.
– There’s an overwhelming sense of blame that runs rampant throughout the film. The idea that so many friends and family knew so much, yet did so little. This elevates the tragedy of Houston to unspeakable levels, and forced more than the occasional tear down this critic’s cheeks.
– The film does a terrific job in capturing the big stakes that Whitney rose to in her performances every single night. In a profession of constantly changing faces and personas, Houston and her timeless music carved out a slice of perfection that has rarely been seen over such a lengthy period. I always knew she had unbelievable range, but thanks to Macdonald’s unflinching focus with some of her greatest performances, I became incredibly aware to the once-in-a-lifetime talent that Whitney really was.
– With the music sampling in the film, it never felt repetitive or forced to represent a topical discussion. Instead, there’s a very eclectic offering of her catalog that represents the vast evolution in the ever-changing pop music world, collectively binding a greatest hits collection that feel like individual chapters for the many life and career arcs in Houston’s life.
– A fine mix of produced concert footage on-stage, as well as handheld VHS documentation to cover the entire spectrum of Whitney’s whirlwind life off-stage. This film has curtain pulling value that is second to none in terms of the very candid instances of the pop star’s personality, pre-cell phone age. In terms of trailing value, ‘Whitney’ feels like it is a story decades in the making, and should be commended for how much video has been preserved.
– Unabashed angles that never run or sugar coat the means of the facts. I appreciate this because Whitney’s is certainly a dark story to tell, but the picture has great brass bravery to inform fans both hardcore and casual of Whitney’s tortured kindred spirit. If you’re not surprised by at least one of the bombshell discoveries told in ‘Whitney’, then you must’ve been best friends with the singer. There has never been a more personal uncovering in the world of documentary.
– Strong establishment of the time and setting in each particular section. In between the musical listening of Houston’s greatest hits, we are treated to the rapid progression of a world that looks like it’s crumbling with consumerism, and Houston’s squeaky clean music is at the center of it. The birth of these two elements are made even more convincing and effective because of precision in editing that treats the bond as a video scrapbook.
– Much of the accompanying narration from Houston, pulled in bits from various interviews over the years, transcends us into believing that the singer lives and breathes for two more hours. It accomplishes this because Whitney is with us every step of the way to introduce us to the next topic of discussion, never appearing visually as she talks, so as to give off that feeling that Houston is speaking of them for the first time.
– Intimate interviews with those closest to her, that offer tons of insight into the events that shaped her. The focus is in speaking and looking directly into the camera, giving the audience the immersion of personal storytelling to make them feel like a valued member of this reflection. What this also does is capture the pain and anguish in so many who knew the high stakes that they and Houston were playing with, but never folded. That air of regret is so thick that it can’t be cut with a knife, and their recollections offer so much more than the casual ‘What Could Have Been’ perspective that other documentaries feel saddled with.
– A documentary that takes its allotted time (Nearly two hours) and makes the most with it. In understanding the two halves of Whitney’s life and career, you understand the pressures associated with fame and family reputation that demanded Whitney to find an identity of her own, and nothing is ever short-cut or subdued in thinking that one aspect of the story is more important than the other. When I saw the run time before the film, I expected lots of excess dead weight that could be cut in favor of fluent pacing, but there is nothing involved in the film that should be cut or trimmed in any way. It’s all vital to the bigger picture.