Whitney (2018)

July 3rd, 2018
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Kevin Macdonald | Musical biopic | UK | 120’

Oscar-winning director Kevin Macdonald looks at the real woman behind the legend that was Whitney Houston in this blistering biopic that gains exclusive access to the enigmatic star’s family and music.

The 1987 global hit  “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” was probably the most telling in the tragic star’s repertoire reflecting a romantic balladeer for whom true love and peace remained elusive. Whitney was a female vocalist who emerged into the limelight with a series of soulful ballads that captured the imagination of women everywhere, at a time where popular music was defined by bands. 

 “How Will I know,” and “Saving All My Love for You” felt personal and yet universal with their sentimental confessions that remain dance-floor delights across the generations. But who was the real woman behind these tender tunes? 

In two compelling hours WHITNEY explores the meteoric rise and sudden death at 48 in a Beverley Hills hotel, after years of addiction and a troubled marriage to rapper Bobby Brown who comes across here as defensive. Macdonald has the key advantage over Nick Bromfield’s Whitney: Can I Be Me, with his intimate access to family, friends and industry collaborators who all seem united in getting to the truth behind the public persona and cliche.

Piecing together contemporary talking heads, Macdonald and editor Sam Rice-Edwards delve into the singer’s psychological past revealing a “tough tomboy” whose parents were unfaithful, and purported sexual from family member, Dee Dee Warwick, who died in 2008. Allusions are made to Whitney’s ‘fluid’ sexuality that indicate marriage to Brown was just to conform to the celebrity image back in the day. Longtime assistant Mary Jones indicates that Whitney’s close friend Robyn Crawford was also her ‘secret lover’, and although Crawford is notably absent to confirm this, the two shared an apartment. Whitney was also dogged by the perception amongst the African-American community that her music, “wasn’t black enough.”.

Rice-Edwards’ clever editing captures the political and social climate interweaving images of Houston’s musical contemporaries and concurrent world events. The Bodyguard co-star Kevin Costner talks of her groundbreaking role as a ‘black leading lady.”  And there are suggestions that her father abused her financially, causing the estrangement that led to her emotional down-spiralling and weight loss, seen in tawdry stage appearances echoing those of tragic Amy Winehouse. And although the film does not quite match the cogent quality of Asif Kapadia’s Oscar-winning Amy, it offers compelling and deeply affecting revelations for her fans and mainstream audiences alike. MT



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