Whitney

***1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Whitney
"More than Aretha, more than anyone, she became the figure of change for the black community" | Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

Whitney Houston will break your heart.

Rags-to-riches is old school. The corruption of innocence, drug spurred or financially motivated, is the price of fame. Cliches linger but don't hurt like self-destruction.

Kevin Macdonald goes off piste, avoiding sentimental hooks, the hits and the performances, what everyone wants, in order to travel deeper into darkness. It is a brave decision, like making a movie about Marilyn without showing clips from Some Like It Hot and The Seven Year Itch.

From a distance Whitney seemed well trained in the choreography of stagecraft and yet forever genuine. She was born in the ghetto. Before he died her father sued her for $100milion. Her daughter said she wanted to kill her. Her mother had an affair with the preacher at their neighborhood church. She was sexually abused by a relative when too young to know why. She had a lesbian relationship for years and yet her marriage to Bobby Brown was the real deal until drug use, domestic violence and her overwhelming success tore it apart.

Using a gallery of talking heads, consisting of close family and friends, the story emerges of a little girl called Nippy who was bullied at school for being too pale skinned and looked forward to going to church because of the choir. Her mother was a backing singer who toured a lot and her father worked in the mayor's office, renowned for bending the rules and pocketing the change.

More than Aretha, more than anyone, she became the figure of change for the black community, the crossover princess, and her album sales broke every known record and her acting debut, The Bodyguard with Kevin Costner, became iconic, especially the scene at the airport and the final song, Dolly Parton's I Will Always Love You, sung by Whitney on the soundtrack.

Macdonald's film is an edited version of interviews and home movie footage and tabloid headlines and snatches from TV chat shows. Ironically the one thing missing is the sound of her voice. There are moments cut short and bits of songs, teasing fans to expect the full Mama Mia! treatment, celebrating the beauty that was Whitney.

"She was always trying to find a way home."

That was Nippy, not the performer who sang The Star Spangled Banner at the Super Bowl, Tampa Stadium, 1991.

The sadness is overwhelming, her final tour a ruin, dying aged 48 in a hotel bathroom, wasted and worn out, alone.

Reviewed on: 27 Jun 2018
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The sad life and stupendous success of a singing superstar.

Director: Kevin Macdonald

Starring: Whitney Houston, Bobby Brown, Sissy Houston, Bobbi Kristina Brown, John Houston

Year: 2018

Runtime: 120 minutes

Country: UK

Festivals:

Cannes 2018
EIFF 2018

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