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'Whitney' review: The singer's saga hits mostly high notes

Yaya DaCosta stars as Whitney Houston in the

Yaya DaCosta stars as Whitney Houston in the Lifetime Original Movie, "Whitney." Credit: AP / Jack Zeman

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Angela Bassett's directorial debut covers a 10-year span in the life of Whitney Houston (Yaya DaCosta), from the time she met her future husband, Bobby Brown (Arlen Escarpeta), at the 1989 Soul Train Music Awards (both performed) until the mid-1990s. They marry in 1992 -- her family is dead set against it -- and she's at the height of her career, or near the height, when Arista Records chief Clive Davis (Mark Rolston) asks Brown to get her touring again, after the birth of Bobbi Kristina. That's when the troubles really start. The vocal performances are by Deborah Cox, a Canadian-born R&B artist.

MY SAY The best part of "Whitney" is by far the most important part -- DaCosta's performance. It's full of warmth and passion and an unspoken sense that, three years after Houston's death, what most fans probably want to remember, or do remember, is the Houston life force. That style, and grace, and elegance, and beauty . . . and especially that joy. The bad stuff? Forgotten, or willfully relegated to that part of the memory where inconvenient or contrarian evidence is stored -- and is largely overlooked in "Whitney," too.

Unless you want the spell shattered, don't watch the 2002 interview with Diane Sawyer or Bravo's 2005 boozy, brawling "Being Bobby Brown," which did more to damage Houston's image than a thousand tabloid stories on their desperate marriage.

DaCosta, a former "America's Next Top Model" contestant, instead captures the butterfly -- or the one people fell in love with in the first place. (The second-best part? Cox's vocal tracks. Her voice is plummier than Houston's, but she also has the requisite range and power. She's terrific, too.)

But what Bassett has done is to write a love letter to Houston and Brown. Escarpeta's Brown subverts the prevailing public image of him in every scene -- here, he's a gentle soul with a good heart, who wants to do right by his children and Whitney.

His boozing arrives late in the film (no mention of his run-ins with the law), but, by then, DaCosta's Houston is deep into cocaine. Bassett refuses to cast blame for the troubles, and we're left with a portrait that has plenty of love -- just not a whole lot of insight or edge.


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