Critic Consensus: Whitney shifts from soaring highs to heartbreaking lows with palpable emotion and grace befitting its singular subject.
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Critic Reviews for Whitney
The film is a sad calamity of conflicting narratives as those closest to Houston work through varying stages of honesty and denial.
Whitney Houston just wanted to dance with somebody who loved her. But life moved too fast for the tragic pop diva.
[Kevin Macdonald] knows how to tell a story about a really complicated famous person and try to provide insight into that person that we think we already know.
An explosive and controversial documentary that sheds new light on her tragic and perhaps inevitable fall.
[Macdonald's] "Whitney" is daring both emotionally and aesthetically, and gets to a kind of truth about Houston the public has never known before.
Audience Reviews for Whitney
IT'S NOT RIGHT BUT IT'S OKAY - My Review of WHITNEY (3 Stars) When Whitney Houston burst onto the music scene in 1985, the first single, "You Give Good Love" from her debut album failed to excite me. While anyone with ears could tell she had a fantastic voice, the song itself felt like middle of the road pap to me. Same goes for her follow-up single, "Saving All My Love For You". It wasn't until her third single, the poptastic "How Will I Know" that I started drinking the Whitney Kool-Aid. Suddenly, I recognized an adorable, infectious star whose singing cut through the synth production of the time and who skyrocketed to superstardom with a killer music video. I've never gravitated towards the big diva balladeers, so her monster hits after that weren't for me, while at the same time she rightfully earned her spot as one of the greatest vocalists of all time. All of this is to say that coming into the new documentary, WHITNEY, by Kevin Macdonald (THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND, TOUCHING THE VOID), I was less drawn to her work than I was to her troubled life. I had my concerns that we'd get a sanitized version of her life since the film received the blessings of the Houston estate. Surprisingly, the film turns out to be much more candid than I had anticipated while also featuring Whitney's singing in such a different light and context as to make me a bigger fan than I had been before. More than anything, the film made me angry and sad. Madonald does a fine if heavy-handed job of contextualizing Whitney's upbringing in a poor, riot-filled, civil rights era New Jersey. The daughter of gospel singer Cissy Houston, Whitney grew up singing in the church. Her religious background coupled with childhood traumas could not have been easy on a child who would grow up to deny her true sexuality the world. Although her long-rumored romantic partner, Robyn Crawford, did not participate in this film, her presence is felt in complex ways, including some nastily depressing commentary from Whitney's older brother Gary. [I've since read an interview where Gary shows remorse for his statements in the film about Crawford, but it's pretty damaging stuff nonetheless]. Others state how Crawford felt like the only person in Whitney's circle who truly had her back. It's this relationship between the church and homosexuality which informs the heart of Whitney's tragic life, and yet, so many family members just won't go there. We have to rely on business associates to get the true picture here. Nonetheless, while still highlighting Whitney's troubles, the film excels in celebrating THAT VOICE. In a mesmerizing sequence put together with the music of "I Wanna Dance With Somebody", wonderfully edited by Sam Rice-Edwards, this being his first feature, the filmmakers isolate Whitney's vocals. Her abilities prove to be jaw-dropping. Same goes for her first television appearance on the Merv Griffin Show when she spectacularly performs "Home" from THE WIZ. Other highlights include her famed STAR SPANGLED BANNER performance, which also thoughtfully includes the black community's complicated relationship to that song. I also was moved by footage of Houston performing her iconic hit, I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU, to a South African crowd at the end of Apartheid. Her tears in meeting Nelson Mandela felt genuine. We're also treated to the loosey-goosey side of Whitney, which somehow got lost between her diva image and her drug-fueled Bobby Brown years. Not afraid to trash talk Janet Jackson or Paula Abdul, Whitney also seemed to have a wicked, vivacious spirit. When she's adorably cuddling with her mother, and telling her she'll never sell out, you want to reach through the screen and tell her that she's enough. As the film enters its third act, things grow darker and more tragic, especially with one painful 11th hour revelation. Bobby Brown does his best to deflect talk of her drug use, rightfully trying to defend her artistic legacy instead. WHITNEY ends up being a downbeat cautionary tale about the consequences of not asserting one's true identity while also elevating the undeniable talent of a true legend. The film does a good job of having it both ways. I can't say I loved the experience of watching it, but I also appreciated its relevance.
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