Edinburgh, Sydney, Munich, Biografilm
A candid exploration of the rise and fall of Whitney Houston.
Kevin Macdonald’s film on Houston is the second within a year, following the compelling WHITNEY. “CAN I BE ME” by Nick Broomfield and Rudi Dolezal. While the latter drew largely from interviews with friends and associates of the late singer, as well as intimate backstage footage, this latest, heartbreaking biography has the participation of Houston’s family and close confidantes, and through them an archive of early recordings of Houston. In the tragedy of the celebrated but troubled singer’s life, there’s ample room for both films, and, to Macdonald’s credit, he hasn’t created a bowdlerized version of Whitney’s story to placate the family. Elements that one might have feared would be excised in a semi-authorized film remain, such as a consideration of the performer’s same-sex relationship with Robyn Crawford, even if given less import or space as in the previous film, and with the homophobic resentment displayed by one of Houston’s brothers left unexplored. The helmer also is provided with a bombshell of childhood sexual abuse suffered by Whitney (and at least one sibling) by a family member, a charged revelation that unfortunately is not unpacked enough and instead is left to linger menacingly and somewhat irresponsibly in the background. While Macdonald’s treatment of Houston’s rise puts to the fore the influence of family members on the development of her talent and career, correcting the long-propagated myth that Clive Davis “created” her, the director seems far more interested in exploring the singer’s sad decline and tragic death at 48 – as well as the even sadder fate of her neglected, troubled daughter soon after. Perhaps fittingly, Whitney is felt more as an absence than a presence as this aspect of her story develops, with only occasional moments of her singing coming through to remind us of what was lost.