Mixing in archival footage with contemporary interviews, Whitney serves as a stark reminder that celebrities don’t live perfect lives.
Whitney Houston had it all. The singer was already a star on the rise as the 1980s transitioned into the 1990s but shot into super-stardom when The Bodyguard was released. The singer had been inspired by Marvin Gaye’s rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and made it her own when asked to perform at the 1991 Super Bowl. In spite of all of this, there was tragedy in her life.
Whitney knew what kind of upbringing she had with her parents so she made sure that her daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown, would be raised differently. And yet, one can’t help but step back and look at the tragedy behind the woman. Celebrities aren’t perfect and it wasn’t until her performance during the Michael Jackson: 30th Anniversary Special in which people realized something was up. This led to a subsequent interview with Diana Sawyer in which the singer opened up on her drug problems. A few trips to rehab weren’t enough.
One of the biggest revelations in the documentary was that Whitney Houston had been sexually molested by her first cousin, Dee Dee Warwick, as a child. This may have been the root cause for her drug problems later on in life. The late singer wasn’t the only one in her immediate family to have been sexually molested as a child.
The first half of the film discusses Whitney’s childhood growing up in Newark, New Jersey. Her father, John Houston Jr., had a job as the head of the Newark Central Planning Board. Her mother, Cissy, had been a gospel singer. The apple certainly didn’t fall far from the tree. With the 1967 Newark riots the family moved to East Orange, N.J., and the singer would eventually meet her best friend, Robyn Crawford, while attending Mount Saint Dominic Academy.
The friendship with Crawford would play a big part in Whitney’s life. There was a lot of discussion about Whitney’s sexuality. She was so close with Robin that the two of them were probably in a relationship. At the same time, it wasn’t seen as safe for a singer with a career to have a same-sex relationship. Eventually, Whitney would marry Bobby Brown. He was doing alright for himself but his fame was nowhere near the point of Whitney’s fame. In the interviews seen on screen, Brown seems to be very much in denial about the drug problem.
In bringing it all together, Kevin Mcdonald does a great job with the direction of the documentary. The first half focuses on all the good stuff that the late singer had going for her. It’s the second half that reminds us of just how tragic her life was. Despite the comeback that Houston had been planning, she just wasn’t in a good place. If there’s one personal gripe to be had about the documentary, it’s that there’s nothing about her teaming up on an Oscar-winning duet with Mariah Carey for The Prince of Egypt soundtrack.
DIRECTOR: Kevin Macdonald
Following the world premiere at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, Roadside Attractions and Miramax will release Whitney in theaters on July 6, 2018.