2018 = the year of the documentary
I’m ready to call it. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? was incredible, sad and heart-warming, Three Identical Strangers is getting great reviews and now we have Whitney — 2018 is the year of the documentary.
Yes, I know, every year since the beginning of time has given us some great documentaries, but I’m just really happy about the recent flood of exceptional ones, okay?
Most of us are well aware who Whitney Houston is. Maybe we don’t know every single detail about her life, but you’d be pretty hard-pressed to find someone out there who doesn’t know the tune to “I Want to Dance with Somebody.”
Most people are also well aware that in 2012, Whitney was found dead in a bathtub in the Beverly Hilton Hotel due to the effects of a drug addiction she had been battling for the past couple of decades.
That makes for a great headline and all, but there aren’t a lot of people out there who really know the whole story to Whitney Houston’s life — who she really was, the everyday battles she had to fight, the things that drove her to her addiction and, more importantly, the things that gave her hope.
That’s where director Kevin Macdonald comes in.
Macdonald’s new documentary Whitney is a tell-all film about all the complicated issues that went on in her life. By containing interviews with some of her closet family and friends, Whitney proves that the singer was so much more than the latest drugged out pop-star.
Some of the facts you might already know: There’s a lot of footage from concerts and interviews throughout Houston’s life, such as the infamous Super Bowl Star Spangled Banner — which is even more impressive when given some background knowledge about it and getting to see it in this context.
Other things aren’t, exactly, in the public consciousness.
Whitney’s mother Cissy Houston was also a singer. She was frequently traveling, so she would have to leave Whitney and her two brothers with various caretakers for long periods of time.
One of these caretakers, we learned, repeatedly abused Whitney. Even after she grew up and got out of that situation, it was something that she was never really able to shake or talk about — she instead silently carried it with her for the rest of her life.
There was also a lot of inner-family drama in the Houston household, which all kind of came to a head when John Russell Houston, Whitney’s father, became her manager.
Then there was her husband, Bobby Brown. Their relationship may have started out with only the best intentions, but, by the time 2012 rolled around, it mutated into something completely different and hazardous.
That especially had a toll on their daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown, which I think is the saddest part of the whole story.
That’s all that lead up to the drugs.
In later years, after that had become public knowledge, Whitney tried to shake the habit again and again. She was in-and-out of rehab throughout all of the 2000s, trying to get clean so she could refocus her life. Sometimes she would actually get pretty far and could get back to work, only to be brought down by the public who no longer had the same fondness for her that they did back in the '90s. as seen in the 2010 “Nothing But Love” world tour.
Throughout the whole thing, there’s one lingering question that Macdonald is subconsciously saying: What if? What if Whitney didn’t endure those horrible things as a child? What if she hadn’t been forced into stardom at such a young age? What if she never met Bobby, never lost sight of herself and never started doing drugs? What if someone had gotten through to her during all those difficult times?
And, perhaps most importantly of all, what if we had just accepted her instead of trying to turn everything she did into a tabloid article?
That’s the way Macdonald approaches Whitney, and he does so masterfully. You can feel his passion not only for Whitney’s music here but for who she was as a person, what drove her during success, what short-comings she eventually faced and how those short-comings could be avoided in the future?
In doing that, Macdonald never shies away from the difficult questions that maybe don’t paint Whitney in the best light. In fact, there are moments where the interviewees clearly feel uncomfortable and don’t want to answer a certain question.
The difference between Whitney and all the other reporters who were constantly berating her when she was alive is that Macdonald isn’t looking for the next biggest scoop. His goal with Whitney isn’t to tell “The untold story of Whitney Houston that her family doesn’t want you to see!” or anything like that. He just wants to understand her.
Understand her and pay her respects. Maybe he’s making Whitney in hopes that we, as a culture, can realize how problematic our fandom is — which is all too relevant these days.
The only minor problem that I, personally, had with Whitney was the runtime. Something like Won’t You Be My Neighbor? works really well becomes it comes in at a clean 90 minutes while still telling you everything you need to know about Fred Rogers. Whitney is just over the two-hour mark. There was never a moment in the movie when I was bored or wanted them to move on to a different stage of her life, but there were definitely some parts that could have been edited down to make the whole thing flow a little better.
That’s all pretty inconsequential when looking at the big picture of Whitney, though. It’s not necessarily an easy watch (the best documentaries never are), but it’s a necessary one.
Watch the trailer for Whitney here and then let us know, in the comments below, what you thought about this documentary!
'Whitney' review: I will always love you Whitney8