PLOT Documentary explores what we knew and didn't know about Whitney Houston.
THE CAST Whitney Houston, Bobby Brown, Cissy Houston
RATED R (language, drug content)
PLAYING AT AMC Loews Raceway 10, Westbury; Farmingdale Stadium 10; Regal Deer Park Stadium 16
BOTTOM LINE Powerful film delves into Houston's talent and her pain.
It takes no less than an Oscar-winning documentarian, Kevin Macdonald, who has taken on terror attacks and harrowing expeditions ("One Day in September," "Touching the Void"), to tackle the volatile life story of Whitney Houston on film. His "Whitney" is daring both emotionally and aesthetically, and although it is his interpretation, it gets to a kind of truth about Houston the public has never known.
Aiding him in the task is a cadre of her closest family members, friends and trusted allies, including her mother, Cissy Houston; her ex-husband, Bobby Brown, as well as her brothers and former employees Gary Garland and Michael Houston. Macdonald explores the cultivation of Whitney's tremendous talent by her mother in New Jersey. Like most stars, she was dogged by rumors about her love life, including her sexuality, and the film’s subjects confirm Whitney’s relationship with close female friend Robyn.
Macdonald marks the eras and visualizes Houston’s place in culture with dizzying, near-experimental sequences, editing together her greatest performances and appearances interwoven with pop culture and political moments. There’s a surreal quality to these sequences, emphasizing the wildness of the ride that wouldn’t stop.
The accounts start to diverge as the film shows Houston falling into a dark abyss of drug abuse with Brown, and Macdonald simply lets the subjects state their truth. Much of the footage, from interviews and home videos, is harrowing, and some of the most devastating accounts concern her daughter, Bobbi Kristina, who grew up with her parents on the road and died just three years after her mother.
All the while, we’re searching for answers, for the why. She was so talented, beautiful and successful, what was her pain? Late in the film Macdonald posits a theory through testimony from family and friends of sexual abuse at the hands of an aunt, singer Dee Dee Warwick. That confession is something of a release, but it doesn’t fully explain everything. And while " Whitney" depicts all the highs and lows of her life with a searing honesty, so much of what we take away is just how special she was.