Whitney: Can I Be Me sees Nick Broomfield take on the iconic spectre of Asif Kapadia’s Amy, and largely fail. His brief, of course, is to take on the iconic spectre of Whitney Houston, but again, we’ve seen this film before with a different title.
It’s not that every music doc absolutely must be compared to Kapadia’s film; but tracking a talented singer from youth to untimely death, from latent neuroses to all-out “troubles” (a tabloid word of which more shortly), has now been done so definitively that a film like Whitney, which does all this with a dulled insipidness, can only pale.
Whitney herself is a joy though, even when on the decline. This is where Can I Be Me finds much engagement. The problem is that Broomfield, normally a master of the form, forgoes his usual participation in favour of an exclusively behind-camera approach here necessitated by his subject’s non-existence. But because, stylistically, he is not Kapadia (or indeed Ezra Edelman), his usual spark is lost.
Of course, it was doomed from the start: whatever Broomfield came up with in the editing suite, it hasn’t masked the embarrassing problem that he doesn’t seem to have had enough footage. Emblematic of this entire half-formed enterprise – the unexplored avenues, the unwoven themes – is the abrupt end: Whitney divorces Bobby in 2007… and then is dead, in 2012. The question at the film’s outset, naturally, was: “What led her to that overdose?” The answer at the end is a shrug.
An uncharismatic documentary featuring many charismatic people, Whitney is basically watchable but hampered by an inability to push far enough. We understand the basic factors in Houston’s untimely death, but Broomfield fails to weave these together coherently and, worse, seems unable to self-reflexively pick apart the subject’s inherent tabloidisation.
CAST: Whitney Houston, Bobby Brown, Robyn Crawford, Cissy Houston
DIRECTORS: Nick Broomfield, Rudi Dolezal
SYNOPSIS: Documentary on Whitney Houston, including her rise to the top, her issues with fame, and her difficult relationship with Bobby Brown – all before her sudden death in 2012.