After the airing of the comically abysmal Aaliyah: Princess of R&B, Lifetime and first-time director Angela Bassett had it pretty easy when it came to their Whitney Houston biopic: just don’t be as awful as that movie and reap the benefits of low expectations.
In that respect, Whitney won; it is not terrible, and if nothing else, watchable. However, a movie about an artist as captivating on and off stage as Whitney Houston deserves more than just passable competence (and that’s being generous). Similarly, if you’re going to call the movie Whitney, it should not come across as a project that would’ve been served better had it been called The Miseducation of Bobby Brown.
We knew Whitney would cover the first five years of Whitney Houston’s tumultuous relationship with the “Kang of R&B,” Bobby Brown, but none of us were clued into how skewed the narrative would play in Bobby’s favor. In this movie, Bobby was some wide-eyed second tier singer who behaved as if he hadn’t ever been anywhere when he met Whitney. This, despite the reality that Bobby Brown had been famous since he was a very young teenager as a part of New Edition and netted his own colossal fame as a solo act in the 1980s.
That’s the least mind-boggling of the twists, though.
This sweet, suburbanized Bobby Brown remained sober with Whitney until well into an hour after the movie started. By comparison, Whitney and her nose were regularly deep snow diving within the first half hour. And she noticeably got high whenever Bobby pissed her off.
As for Bobby, you know, he was just a sweet man. He loved Whitney so much and did everything he could to make her feel her best self. Ever the gentleman, he unselfishly supported her booming career as his declined. Both Whitney and Bobby have made statements that counter that talking point, but why bother with accuracy when making a movie about someone’s life? At one point, I was waiting for Bobby to leave Whitney to go hang out with Jesus and MLK at Oprah’s house.
At one point, I was waiting for Bobby to leave Whitney to go hang out with Jesus and MLK at Oprah’s house.
I am not one of those people still clinging to the pristine, upper class girl image that Clive Davis crafted for Whitney Houston. Nor do I believe Bobby Brown was a monster that brought Whitney down. Bobby could’ve very well been just a casual drug user and alcoholic who through his relationship with Whitney became a hardcore user.
Either way, what we see in Whitney feels unfair to its namesake.
Which leads me to another problem with the movie: We don’t see much at all really. A two-hour basic cable movie is about 88 net minutes to tell a story. In most of those minutes nothing really happened besides those two getting married and Whitney doing cocaine. Toward the end, Bobby downs the vodka, does a line, and cheats on Whitney. But even then, he goes to rehab, tells her business—which gets exploited in the tabloids—and then they make up and we’re left with Whitney on stage, singing “I Will Always Love You.”
The movie did also teasingly tackle Whitney’s relationship with Robyn Crawford, but it’s the cinematic equivalent of just putting the tip in. You’re either going there or you’re not.
For what it’s worth, Yaya DaCosta did a fine job of playing Whitney with the conditions she was given (short notice and a shoddy script). Likewise, Deborah Cox is not Whitney Houston, but she did a superb job singing Whitney Houston’s songs.
Still, the movie isn’t terrible, but it’s not especially good either. If the goal was to give Bobby’s side of events: flawless victory. If this movie was really about informing viewers about the late singer: Uh, if there’s a heaven, Whitney is likely cursing up and down it.
Before the movie was related, Whitney’s sister-in-law and the president of her estate, Pat Houston, released via statement: “Never would Whitney allow her story to be told by an inexperienced team and how naive of anyone to think otherwise, unless you’re caught up in illusions of grandeur that you can just do anything and people will accept it.”
Pat also claimed that her own daughter wondered how “a woman who claimed to be her aunt’s friend would direct a movie that seems so unloving towards her Aunt.” It’s a fair question because though the movie may not have shown the ugliness that ultimately destroyed Whitney and Bobby’s marriage, it didn’t “honor her” as advertised either.