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Tribeca Review: ‘Whitney. “Can I Be Me”’

April 29, 2017

Fame is a fickle friend, especially when you are trying to reconcile your public persona with the person you are inside. Nick Broomfield’s somber and devastating documentary on the late-great Whitney Houston follows the pop icon’s meteoric rise and the fame, attention, money and addictions that eventually cost her everything.

“Whitney. ‘Can I Be Me’” opens with the fateful 911 call from the Beverly Hilton to the LAPD in 2012. Houston had perished in her hotel bathtub after falling asleep with opioids and cocaine in her system. Flashing back in time, “Can I Be Me” takes us back to 1999, behind the scenes of Houston’s last successful world tour. With tons of never before seen footage shot by German filmmaker Rudi Dolezal, we watch the then-36-year-old star, move through European cities night after night. She plays and reenacts scenes from “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” with her rambunctious and often lewd husband Bobby Brown, teases her staff, stuffs herself with pizza and chicken wings and hangs with her dear friend Robyn Crawford. And yet, in the quiet moments when she’s getting her makeup touched up or having her hair curled, Whitney Houston looks exhausted.

A sliding timeline that moves all the way back to Houston’s childhood in Newark and East Orange, New Jersey, we can see how much the image of “The Whitney Houston” was molded and handled by her parents, Clive Davis, Arista Records and the industry as a whole. Though she was a church girl, often under the thumb of her mother Cissy Houston, the “I Will Always Love You” singer was no stranger to the edgier side of life. In the film, her brothers, Gary and Michael emphasize that she often partied with them and did drugs recreationally as a teenager. However, the overwhelming spectacle of her life especially after the premiere of “The Bodyguard: and her high-profile marriage to industry bad boy Bobby Brown aided in her dependency on narcotics. Apparently, she overdosed on cocaine while filming “Waiting to Exhale” in 1995.

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