Movie review: 'Whitney' charts slow demise of a superstar
Whitney Houston's life and death are laid out in director Kevin Macdonald's insightful, heavy documentary
The voice. The talent. The looks. The lineage. Didn't she almost have it all?
The mournful documentary "Whitney" shows that Whitney Houston did, indeed, almost have it all. But the singing superstar was on a crash course with the inevitable, which culminated in drug abuse, despair and her drowning death in 2012 at the age of 48.
Director Kevin Macdonald ("The Last King of Scotland") stages the rise and fall of Houston, setting her '80s and early '90s highs against a backdrop of pop culture moments and world events. We see young Nippy, as she was known to those close to her, growing up in working class Newark, N.J., singing backup for her mother, gospel singer Cissy Houston. We see at an early age young Whitney had the goods to go global. But there were demons from her childhood that she could never outrun, which eventually brought her down.
Family members and associates shed light on Houston's life, from the brothers who introduced her to drugs at an early age to her ex-husband Bobby Brown, who refuses to talk about Houston's drug use in her latter years. There are rumors of bi-sexuality and allegations of childhood sexual abuse that go unanswered, to the slight detriment of the film.
You know the ending to "Whitney" going in, of course, and Macdonald lets viewers bask in those glory years -- the string of No. 1 hits, the Super Bowl, "The Bodyguard" -- before he lets the darkness roll in. The final 40 minutes or so cast a heavy pall, the same way the 2015 Amy Winehouse documentary "Amy" felt like watching a funeral. "Whitney" is an enlightening, intimate, tragic portrait of squandered talent and a life lost.
Rated R for language and drug content
Running time: 122 minutes