- Allan Hunter
- 3 July 2018
Sombre and thoughtful documentary looking back over the tragic life of the titular singer
A cottage industry has grown up around the tragic life of Whitney Houston. There seems no end to those seeking to pick over the bones of her meteoric rise and drug-addicted fall. That rather begs the question of whether we need another documentary on the subject. Kevin Macdonald's Whitney provides an emphatic answer, offering a clear-sighted, compassionate portrait of a troubled soul.
The strength of Macdonald's film partly rests in the range of testimony he has collected, with those interviewed ranging from Houston's wary mother Cissy to surly former husband Bobby Brown, Bodyguard co-star Kevin Costner and assorted siblings and loved ones who collectively create the sense of a family unit that was toxic.
Wide-ranging, expertly edited footage reminds us of Houston's spine-tingling voice and record-breaking achievements and also suggests that she was a symbol for the optimism of a resurgent America under Ronald Reagan. Macdonald's tactful, determined grilling confronts key aspects of Houston's life – from her sexuality to her drug use and her status within the black community. Footage of Houston being booed at the Soul Train awards reminds us that not everyone celebrated the arrival of a new pop princess.
Concert footage, television interviews (both sassy and chilling), movie roles, a South African concert in 1994 and that thrilling rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner are all part of a portrait that doesn't shy away from a life that eventually becomes a car crash unfolding in slow motion. Houston was just 48 when she died in 2012.
What eventually comes to dominate Whitney is her family: the brothers who regarded her as a gravy train, the father who sued her for a $100 million, and revelations that tend to confirm that so many of her troubles lay buried in childhood trauma. A sombre, thoughtful film handled with sensitivity.
General release from Fri 6 Jul.