Starring: Whitney Houston (archival footage), Bobbi Kristina Brown (archival footage), Bobby Brown, Cissy Houston, Clive Davis, L.A. Reid
Directed by: Kevin Macdonald
Running Time: 2 hours, 2 minutes
Whitney, the heavy and heart wrenching documentary film, chronicles the rise and demise of clearly the greatest Pop Princess of our time. It is a must-see movie that leaves the crowd, women especially, walking out of the theaters, singing its praises.
It is the story of a church girl from Newark, New Jersey who went on to worldwide fame throughout a meteoric career that ended much too soon.
Kevin Macdonald, the Scottish director, is no stranger to the documentary genre, having made the critically acclaimed King of Scotland starring Forrest Whitaker.
In Whitney, Macdonald unearths rarely seen footage of the pop star; compiles interviews with her mother, brothers and assistant; and takes journalistic license with a story we all “think we know.” The result is a musical documentary set to some of the best and worst visuals of the 1960s up to the new millennium.
To say that the film is hard to watch is an understatement. The images of cocaine use and the issues of sexuality and molestation that arise in the movie may conjure up demons from the past for many viewers, myself included.
That part of the documentary can make you so uncomfortable that you believe you have to momentarily step out of the theater, or leave without watching the story to its conclusion. This is both the beauty and the beast of Macdonald’s craft.
Nevertheless, the film has so many truly enjoyable, interesting and euphoric moments that it proves to be a journey for the audience that you hope won’t end too soon.
For example, Cissy Houston, Whitney’s mother, is interviewed by Macdonald in the sanctuary of the church in Newark, New Jersey in which the Houston family worshipped.
Sitting there – stoic and proud – with her walking cane in hand, Whitney’s mother shares with us how she taught her daughter, at a young age, how to sing from her “heart.”
Then we go along with the filmmaker on a ride from the early days of Whitney’s childhood as told by her aunt. What is most startling is not the revelation that she kept Whitney from the age of about eight, but the reason behind it: Whitney’s mother – an emerging singer herself – stayed on the road and was rarely at home.
When the camera rolls on Whitney’s brothers, they are candid about growing up poor and moving to East Orange. However, they make no apologies for how they lived their lives as their sister’s bodyguards: constantly partying with their drug of choice.
This lack of remorse is telling for a family that lost such an integral member too soon. It makes you wonder, who really loved Whitney, anyway?
That leads to the most controversial scenario in Whitney’s rise to the top: her fascination with the then “Hot Bad Boy” Bobby Brown, which led to their misunderstood and media-driven marriage, as well as the birth and addictive lifestyle of their daughter, Bobbi Kristina.
Taking all of this into consideration, the documentary Whitney is worth seeing if but for no other reason than to witness Her Royal Majesty of Pop sing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl. And if you don’t get goose bumps from that…check your pulse…to make sure you are alive!