Roadside Attractions & Miramax Films present the documentary Whitney, from director Kevin Macdonald. The documentary chronicles the rise and fall of “The Voice” from her humble Newark, New Jersey childhood to a daily tabloid news story.
As Whitneyopens up, the sounds of “How Will I Know” are crosscut with footage of eighties nostalgia during a time to when MTV played music videos. I respected this artistic decision, as it reminds us of the juggernaut Whitney was when her career started to gain steam. Whitney then begins to tell Mrs. Houston’s story, and I learned tons of information that I never knew.
Learning about Whitney’s childhood with tidbits such as her desire to be a tomboy and the relationship she had with her older brother Michael Houston. As I sat in the theater and watching Whitney, some of the revelations about her childhood answered questions that I’ve always wondered about why Mrs. Houston was the way she was.
One of the critical revelations for me was Whitney’s mother Cissy, who wasn’t around while Whitney was growing up. While I knew that Cissy was a well-known background singer, I never knew that she had a solo career that wasn’t successful. I also never knew that Cissy was the one who perfected Whitney’s singing style. I also learned that both Cissy and Whitney’s dad, were both unfaithful infidelity which leads to Whitney becoming a child of divorce.
As the documentary moves on, we see the layers of Whitney’s life unveiled. I’ve always felt that Whitney Houston was a created product by Clive Davis, who never actually allowed Whitney to be herself. Director Kevin Macdonald makes the wise choice to show Whitney’s human side, showcasing Whitney having fun backstage, as well as Whitney calling out vocalists who she didn’t feel could sing.
The second half of the film showcases Whitney’s decline, and while the masses want to blame Bobby Brown, I’ve never felt that Mr. Brown was at fault. I give credit to Houston’s brothers for mentioning that THEY were the ones who introduced Whitney to drugs. One of the films funniest moments for me actually occurs when Whitney’s brother Michael suggests that Bobby was a lightweight compared to Whitney. The film also touches on Whitney’s career eclipsing Bobby’s due to her massive success with The Bodyguard. The brief moment where one of Whitney’s associates mentions that Bobby Brown became known as Mr. Houston as opposed to having his own identity, would make for a great exciting documentary.
The final thirty minutes of Whitneyare some of the most heartbreaking moments I’ve seen on film this year. From the jokes that numerous television shows made about Whitney, to the ill-fated 2003 Diane Sawyer interview and finally hearing Whitney’s singing voice at its worst during one of her last performances. We also see shots of numerous failed attempts at rehab, and then her relationship ending with her best friend, Robin Crawford.
My only complaint about Whitney, is we never hear from Robin Crawford. As I watched the documentary, we see archived footage of Crawford, but knowing how important she was in Whitney’s life, it would have been refreshing to hear Crawford’s side of the story. I would’ve also loved to hear from some of the cast from 1995’s Waiting to Exhale, as I remember how iconic that film was.
Whitney Houston has been gone for six years and for some, the pain still lingers on. Director Kevin Macdonald gives us an eye-opening documentary with Whitney by humanizing the woman known as “The Voice.” Even if you weren’t a fan of Whitney Houston, I highly recommend checking out Whitney.
Final Grade: A-