Nick Broomfield and Rudi Dolezal’s 2017 Whitney Houston doc had the awkward title “Whitney: Can I Be Me”. It’s no exaggeration to say that, Kevin McDonald’s 2018 Whitney Houston doc “Whitney” (Roadside Attractions) should have actually been titled “Whitney: Can You Let Her Be”.
Of course, these filmmakers aren’t the only ones disturbing Houston’s finally at rest corpse. Last year, a seemingly unnecessary expanded edition of the soundtrack to “The Bodyguard” was released for what amounts to shameless vault raiding and grave digging.
If you saw “Whitney: Can I Be Me”, then much of what is onscreen in “Whitney” will be redundant. There is a rehash of her “idyllic” New Jersey childhood, life in the ghetto and the race riots. We follow Whitney’s rise from the “rough and tough” kid sister nicknamed Nippy to singing in church to filling in for her mother at a nightclub in her teens to her modeling career and the subsequent record label battle that resulted in her signing to bisexual music mogul Clive Davis’ Arista Records.
Houston’s meteoric rise is well-documented and will be familiar to many. Her demons, including serious drug abuse, are also front and center. The doc doesn’t gloss over her struggle to remain in the closet and keep her relationship with longtime paramour Robyn Crawford a secret. Houston’s destructive marriage to fellow performer Bobby Brown will also be known to most viewers.
New information includes Houston talking about her dreams, so vivid that she would wake up exhausted from running. We hear more from mother Cissy, a respected and hard-working vocalist in her own right who sang backing vocals for Aretha Franklin and Elvis Presley. She was also a devout church-lady who could curse like a trucker. There is more insight into Whitney’s father John’s negative influence on her life and her career. There is also an increased focus on the mistreatment experienced by her late daughter (with Bobby Brown) Bobbi Kristina.
The single most shocking revelation involves the possibility that Whitney was sexually molested by cousin Dee Dee Warwick (sister of Dionne). Brother Gary, an unabashed homophobe, is not the most reliable witness, but he’s vehement in his condemnation of Warwick. Unfortunately, neither Whitney (who died in 2012) nor Dee Dee (who died in 2008)
here to confirm or refute the salacious claims.
There seems to be no end to the poking and prodding Houston is receiving. Aside from the documentaries, a poorly received Angela Bassett-directed 2015 Lifetime biopic is bound to have someone somewhere rubbing their hands together while planning a theatrically released feature film.
We can only hope that this “Whitney” will be the end of the line. Rating: B-