Blallywood Film Review: Whitney
Whitney Houston’s debut album was released in February 1985, just five months before I was born. As my life was just beginning, her career was skyrocketing. By the time I was old enough to appreciate music, Whitney’s was a voice that often echoed in my parents’ home. It soared, accessing angelic softness and passionate strength with equal ability. I remember “The Greatest Love of All” was my dad’s favorite and he never tired of belting it at the top of his lungs along with the album. For us, Whitney was it- beauty, money, fame, and the voice.
So, as an 80’s baby, Whitney is sacred, and I was nervous when I heard that Lifetime would take a shot at telling her story. I didn’t see Aaliyaah: Princess of R&B but I’d heard enough to be concerned that the network wouldn’t handle Houston’s story well.
The movie opened acknowledging Houston’s gospel roots with an a capella rendition of “Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah” and we see when Whitney meets, whom many consider to be her demise, Bobby Brown. The next hour and forty-five minutes is a surprising and insightful love story between two troubled, brilliant artists who seem to have no idea how to healthily and honestly love each other. Bobby can’t commit and struggles with insecurity in light of his superstar wife and Whitney wants so wholly to be loved and accepted that she consistently sacrifices career and self for others, particularly Bobby. It’s steamy, bright, and heart wrenching.
Performances are noteworthy with Yaya DaCosta shining. She’s ebullient and luminous as Whitney with endless energy, beauty, and spunk. Arleen Escarpeta has a strong turn as Bobby, though he sometimes lacks sufficient swag to be completely believable. He nails the performance scenes as Bobby. The other performances are strong, though none are transformative. Deborah Cox’s fabulous take on Whitney’s music is worth mentioning. We all knew Deborah could sing, but she really did tremendous work in this film dubbing for DaCosta.
The design elements are typical of Lifetime. Considering budget, costumes and sets are fine; Whitney and Bobby’s wedding scene costumes are damn near spot on, which was a highlight.
I thought it was wise for director Angela Bassett to focus on magnifying the climax of Whitney’s career during the Bobby years instead of drudging through the classic “cradle to grave” biopic, which would have inevitably left us oversaturated and unsatisfied. This was a strong foray into the directing ring for Bassett, the film has considerable depth, heart, and warmth. Bassett is obviously someone who has great respect and love for Houston and it shows in this cinematic tribute.
If you didn’t watch, Lifetime is notorious for a good set of reruns. B-.