It’s been six years since Whitney Houston was found dead in a hotel bathtub. Just as when she was alive, Houston has had novels, books, newspaper headlines, music and now movies focused on her decline. Whitney, from esteemed and acclaimed documentary maker Kevin Macdonald, is the authorised take on the life of the astonishing superstar.
While Nick Broomfield’s 2017 unauthorised documentary took a defensive stance for Houston, taking aim at those around her, this time Macdonald attempts to contextualise the rise and fall rather than pointing fingers at arguably deserving souls. The blessing of being “authorised” is that you receive access to all those who know. The endless revelations from Houston’s overprotective brothers, tough gospel mother, her assistants and more provide the film with its purpose and strength. Through tales of drugs, marriage, and sexual abuse, the interviews offer context, even going as far as justifying her descent. The tears are raw, the pain feels fresh, and the failure of others feels tangible and disappointing.
Therein lies the grand dilemma with a personal tragedy like this. We all know how the story ends, with Whitney Houston dead in a bathtub. Is watching this agonisingly slow car crash, and the burning remains, voyeuristic? Are we simply rubber-necking to see the remnants from this tortured soul? Macdonald can navigate many of these issues by allowing her talent to shine through. Houston’s voice is an unparalleled, goosebump-erupting work of art. Her renditions of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ at Super Bowl XXV and ‘Home’ on The Merv Griffin Show in 1985 leave you breathless. In these moments, you realise the true extent of the tragedy of Whitney Houston’s fall.
This is not the definitive take on Whitney Houston; you can feel a better one coming down the line. For now, Macdonald’s all-access dive into the singer’s life is deft, emotional, and unsensationalist.
CAST: Whitney Houston, Bobbi Kristina Brown, Bobby Brown, Cissy Houston
DIRECTOR: Kevin Macdonald
SYNOPSIS: An in-depth look at the life and music of Whitney Houston.