I was born in 1982, so Whitney Houston has been a superstar for all of my conscious lifetime. For that reason (and because I’m a contrary B), I never considered her all that interesting. She was an Arnold Schwarzenegger, or a Michael Jackson, or a Clinton—an American cultural cornerstone, yes, but one who didn’t invite a lot of thought because it seemed she would never fall from grace. So I ignored Houston as much as possible until she publicly unraveled and then, in 2012, died at age 48. I, along with millions of others, was left wondering: “What the hell??”
The documentary Whitney answers all the “No, but seriously, what the hell?!” questions that the singer’s fans still haven’t been able to wrap their heads around. Of course, Houston’s troubles with drugs, alcohol, and an abusive marriage to Bobby Brown were never exactly secret, but even as she appeared in tabloid after tabloid, Houston always seemed too famous to die.
Whitney answers more questions than I knew I had about Houston’s life, from her religious upbringing to how she was groomed by her musical family, and from her meteoric rise to the top of the charts to her spectacularly sad struggle with drugs—a struggle that, unfortunately, overlapped with parenthood.
It’s a lot, and Whitney’s two-hour runtime can feel padded with superfluous info and context, even when it doesn’t have a ton to do with its subject. (Sit down, Berlin Wall!) The real meat is found in the extensive, heartfelt interviews with Houston’s family members, including the evil enabler Bobby Brown (boo, hiss), as well as touching, never-before-seen footage of Houston herself, being very human.
I’ll be honest: I thought about writing this review using only song lyrics from Houston’s greatest hits. But that seemed like a shitty ploy considering how profoundly moving Whitney can be. So instead, I’ll leave you with the obvious: Whitney Houston, I will always love you.