Even the title suggests a more definitive take on the life of Whitney Houston. Coming a year after Nick Broomfield’s outing 'Whitney: When Can I Be Me?', Kevin Macdonald (best known for dramas 'Last King of Scotland', 'How I Live Now' and the Bob Marley documentary) delivers an altogether sturdier, more personal and in-depth exploration of the late pop singer.
It’s difficult to review this documentary without comparing it to the last but here we are. Broomfield hamstrung himself by incorporating large chunks of footage culled from Houston’s never-seen-before 2009 European tour; while fans relished viewing the rare footage the on-stage scenes distracted from the investigation into Houston’s life – it was, truth be told, time wasted. Macdonald doesn’t make the same mistake, poking around in areas that Broomfield only hinted at, and at times outright contradicts some of the statements made in that documentary.
First of all, Broomfield never got into the alleged sexual abuse Houston suffered at the hands of her aunt Dee Dee, who was also a singer. With her mother Cissy on tour often, and her father working hard, the kids were shunted around to anyone who could look after them and it is suggested that Dee Dee took advantage of these moments. And where Broomfield was at pains to show that while the marriage to Bobby Brown was mutually destructive, they were indeed happier that the press would have you believe. Not so much here as the marriage is painted in an altogether different light. Brown shows up here briefly and, despite Macdonald’s attempts (we can hear Macdonald asking difficult questions of all the interviewees), Brown is adamant that getting into the circumstances surrounding her death is immaterial.
The alleged romance between Houston and friend/advisor Robyn Crawford has cold water poured on it by Houston’s brother who claims Crawford was an opportunist, a hanger-on, and there were attempts to cut Crawford out of Whitney’s life before she eventually did. Like Broomfield’s documentary the reclusive Crawford isn’t present to give her version of events.
While there are unavoidable similarities too with Houston’s life and death dictating the arc of the documentary - the rise to fame followed by the slow descent - this descent is given a more heart-breaking oomph by Macdonald with one contributor recalling after shooting 'Sparkle', her attempted comeback film, Houston couldn’t bring herself to leave Hollywood, staying around for days after the wrap to see if anyone would just hang out. She was lonely and didn’t want to go home. Glub.
Touching, intimate and wholly engaging - this is unmissable even if you saw Broomfield’s.