Whitney Houston’s voice was almost otherworldly; there’s no denying it. Her legacy, though fraught with pain and tragedy, will never be erased. There has been much speculation about Houston, her career and the addictions that eventually led to her death, and now in the documentary film Whitney, Houston’s family and director Kevin Macdonald are presenting their account of the late idol’s life.
Much of the film comes from the perspective of those closest to Houston, including her brothers, Michael and Gary, as well as her mother, Cissy Houston; ex-husband Bobby Brown; and even her co-star Kevin Costner. Using these confessionals, Macdonald outlines The Preacher’s Wife actress’s childhood in New Jersey through her death on that fateful February day in 2012. What stands out immediately is that the details of Houston’s childhood are up for debate. While some in her inner circle insist that her childhood was idyllic in spite of her parent’s divorce, others tell a different story altogether. These never discussed aspects of Houston’s adolescence paint a heartbreaking tale of molestation and immense pressure to get her voice just right.
While the narrative is intriguing, some of the stylistic choices in Whitney are odd. Macdonald intercuts footage like MTV commercials and news specials throughout the film with then-contemporary footage of Houston in an attempt to orient the audience. However, it often felt distracting. Additionally, though the film was executive produced by The Bodyguard star’s sister-in-law, Pat Houston, and involved several close members of the Houston family, Macdonald did not spend a great deal of time with those nearest and dearest to Whitney, including her mother. The on-camera interviews in the film are heavily edited. Choppy cuts and transitions raise questions about authenticity, Macdonald’s access and the impartiality of Whitney.
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