Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Diva Dangerous: Whitney Review


WHITNEY

I am not the target audience for a Lifetime movie, so I am not qualified to say if Whitney (or as I prefer to call her, WHITNEY!) is traditional Lifetime fare.  However, given that the biopic debuted on a network better known for 'women in peril' movies, perhaps Whitney was then not as far off from their regular fare as I thought.   Of course, the peril usually comes from a crazy person...well, so far Whitney is hitting all the hallmarks of Lifetime: the crazy person here being the subject of the film.  Whitney is not a terrible film.  It has good performances and musical numbers. 

How truthful it is to the life of WHITNEY! and her significant other Bobby Brown is hard to say.

Whitney is centered on just one aspect of WHITNEY!'s life: her romance with Brown.  Going by the film, WHITNEY! (Yaya DaCosta) met Brown (Arlen Escapeta) at the Soul Train Awards, WHITNEY! being impressed and slightly aroused by Brown's performance of his hit Every Little Step.  The confident Brown finds the elegant Houston equally attractive, and soon they start dating.  Brown, who in Whitney is a brilliant songwriter/performer, is pretty much a good guy: surprised to see WHITNEY! using a little cocaine.  WHITNEY! wants him, but so does his on/off girlfriend/baby mama Kim (Nafessa Williams), and he, through curious circumstances, ends up sleeping with both (after WHITNEY! dumps him, he goes back to Kim but then goes back-back to WHITNEY!).

Despite the loud objections of everyone in WHITNEY!'s circle, from her mother, singer Cissy Houston (Suzzane Douglas) and over the advise of WHITNEY!'s mentor, Arista Records mogul Clive Davis (Mark Rolston), WHITNEY! decides to marry Bobby (already having lost a child during filming of her debut film, The Bodyguard).  However, things do go well for either:  WHITNEY! wants to stay home with her new daughter and take a break from touring, but Clive wants her on the road to strike while the iron's hot.  Poor Bobby, whose own career is floundering, is disappointed when Clive puts the squeeze on him to get WHITNEY! back on the road.  Bobby also has to deal with being "Mr. Houston", as his somewhat erratic wife keeps slurping up that coke she so loves.  Eventually, Bobby's associations with his thug past and her own issues with drugs and self-indulgence get the better of this love story.   When she sings I Will Always Love You, it's to say goodbye to Bobby.



"Crack is whack", she once said.  What she meant to say was, "I'm whacked on crack".  Whitney is very entertaining, but exactly how true it is to what actually happened in the sad and sorry spectacle that was the WHITNEY!/Bobby relationship is dubious. 

The film pretty much at times plays like a whitewashing of Bobby Brown almost from the beginning.  Screenwriter Shem Bitterman and director Angela Bassett (who costarred with WHITNEY! in Waiting to Exhale) opted to have Bobby's first number be the sweet Every Little Step.  In reality, Brown sang the more defiant My Prerogative at the Soul Train Awards when they first met.  This might be a small change, and it might have been done for a variety of reasons (copyright, licensing, what have you).  However, to me, the change in songs is indicative, accidentally or not, of how Whitney decided to portray Brown in this story.

Every Little Step is a nice love song about being together forever.  My Prerogative is about not giving a rat's behind what others think and doing whatever one wanted.  In reality, WHITNEY! and Bobby were squarely in the latter. 

Throughout Whitney, Bobby is shown as some sort of great songwriter done in by his wife's constant neediness and self-indulgence.  If only he didn't have to deal with WHITNEY! and her insecurities, her wild sex drive, and her cocaine use (which we see first as casual, and by the end...not as casual but nowhere near as out of control as it got), he would have gone on to be the equal to someone like a Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds.  WHITNEY!, if we believe the film, was the one that introduced Bobby to cocaine.



Again, this might be the case, but Whitney at times seems almost too eager to please its subjects, both living and dead, to be a real exploration.  No mention is made of their many antics, of how toxic they were whenever they were together, how the private WHITNEY! was nowhere near the image of Houston as this elegant, sophisticated lady.  WHITNEY! could be vulgar, crass, self-indulgent, unwilling to listen to anyone.  We might get little hints here and there about that, but Whitney still veered too close to the public image of this good girl to give us just how bad she could be.

No mention is also suggested that Bobby Brown is no saint either, culminating in the short-lived reality show Being Bobby Brown, best remembered now for giving us as sordid a picture of WHITNEY! and Bobby as possible.  Brown, if he were in real life as he is shown in Whitney, would have been appalled at the concept of Being Bobby Brown, let alone the execution. 

Sometimes reality is more horrifying than fiction, especially one that pulls its punches.

In fairness, there are good things in Whitney.  DaCosta handles herself well as the demure diva, even if she looks nothing like WHITNEY!  Escarpeta does a great job in making Brown highly sympathetic.  The various musical numbers are also well-crafted.  The budgetary limitations show, but bless Bassett for making them move and be full of energy, even when showing something as simple as WHITNEY! recording I'm Your Baby Tonight in a studio. Deborah Cox supplies the musical vocals, but DaCosta manages to match the vocals very well.

Whitney is pretty well acted and directed.  The whole film though, at the end of the day, while entertaining is a bit of a whitewash.  The true ugly nature of the WHITNEY!/Bobby relationship is obscured in the film.  The couple became a source of mockery for how they led their public life together, let alone how dysfunctional they were in private, with drugs and arrogance and self-indulgence all over the place.

Whitney Houston had an incredible voice and was a beautiful woman.  She was also self-centered, self-indulgent, a bit of a loon, self-destructive.  Bobby Brown, contrary to what Whitney shows, fed and aggravated the destructive tendencies of Miss Houston.  Whitney as a production independent of its subject, is pretty entertaining.  As a chronicle of events, it's more hit-and-miss.

If WHITNEY! had lived, I think this would be her reaction to Whitney...         



6/10

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