Biography Documentary

Review: ‘Whitney’ is a Stunning Portrait of a Legend, Her Legacy and What It All Cost

July 14, 2018Britany Murphy

Whitney Houston had a gift that only comes around once in a lifetime. Even coming from a family of brilliant singers, Whitney was the one who rose to the top with a voice that was deemed to be touched by God himself. She was "the voice" — and while many knew her for her powerhouse vocals, it was the negatives that came along with being in the spotlight that ultimately became her downfall.

The documentary begins with the life of young Whitney Houston. From her birth to her childhood years, she's described by her mother, Cissy, as "good baby" and a "good girl," but she was bullied by some of the other girls at school. Not only was Houston fighting her own battles, but in her family's hometown of Newark, New Jersey violent riots had erupted. Despite the turmoil that surrounded the not-yet-famous singer, however, there were two things that that always remained a constant: church and music. The songstress was raised in the church and it was where she gained her first experience as a singer in front of a large congregation.

Even with purpose in the church, her father John's new job working for the mayor of Newark and a new private school to keep her from being bullied, Houston's childhood was less than idyllic. Although, her family members and friends that were interviewed for the project are clear that nothing that happened when she was young could have attributed to her early passing, the film reveals new and shocking details unearthed about the singer's life that only add to the tragedy of her untimely death.

Director Kevin Macdonald manages to do what many have not. Macdonald has gotten interviews with those closest to the singer, including her mother, her brothers, former bandmates Rickey Minor and Bette Sussman, her aunt and assistant Mary Jones (who found her in the bathtub that fateful day), and legendary music executives Clive Davis and L.A. Reid, among others. Each and every individual brings something different to the movie and provides insight into an aspect of Houston that the public wasn't privy to. It really allows the audience to see, that despite the fame and fortune, not everything that went on in Houston's early life was as it seemed. Her brothers even reveal that they did drugs with their sister when she was only 16 years old. And as her popularity rose and the access to drugs and alcohol only increased, neither of them did anything to deter the starlet from doing drugs backstage while on tour, seeing it as more of a "lifestyle" than destructive behavior.

With all of the back and forth between the people interviewed in the film about how fun-loving and full of life Houston was, it also makes for quite a frustrating documentary due to everyone's apparent complacency in regards to her drug habit. It is clear that, despite her obvious struggles, many of the people in her life seemingly chose themselves over their sister and friend in order to maintain their own lifestyles — even Houston's own father (who had been stealing from her when he was acting as her manager) sued her for $100 million dollars. And the ones that weren't using her for monetary gain were also in denial about what was going on, specifically Bobby Brown, who appears in the movie to talk about their marriage but refuses to speak about the negative aspects of their relationship, including their drug use.

But among the most heartbreaking moments of the film pertain to Houston's relationship with her daughter, Bobbi Kristina. Many of her friends agreed that Whitney was the best mother she could be to Bobbi Kristina at the time, but it was most definitely not the best relationship, and in the the end, she too died in the same manner as her mother a few years before her. Macdonald's take on Whitney's life in the documentary truly sends the audience on an emotional roller coaster ride. For as much as you're entrenched in the songs, personality and spirit of an icon, you're equally invested in her trials, tribulations and eventual downfall.

Whitney is an honest look into the life and times of one of music's biggest and most cherished stars that reveals to all of us who are familiar with the legend that "deep down, she was a girl in pain." An oftentimes insightful, touching and heartbreaking film, this is a must-watch for any fan of Whitney Houston's music and legacy, as well as those who are fond of well-made documentaries that have a firm grasp on the story they are trying to tell.

Whitney releases July 13th, 2018 from D Films. The film has an MPAA rating of R for language and drug content. Its runtime is 2 hrs. 2 min.

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