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Opinion

The greatest waste of time

Focus of superstar vocalist's biopic narrow and superficial

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/1/2015 (1589 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The first problem with Whitney is its title.

The implication is that the TV movie that carries it will offer a biographical look at the life and career of its subject, music legend Whitney Houston. But in truth, the movie -- which airs Saturday, Jan. 17 at 7 p.m. on Lifetime -- offers few insights, personal or professional, about the singer, and focuses solely on a single aspect of her troubled and too-short life.

A more accurate title might have been Whitney and Bobby, because the movie, helmed by first-time director Angela Bassett, provides little more than a rather sanitized look at Houston's tumultuous relationship with R&B singer/songwriter Bobby Brown.

Whitney pays no attention whatsoever to Houston's early life and music-career beginnings; instead, the story opens in 1989 at the Soul Train Music Awards, with Houston (played by Yaya DaCosta) already long established as one of the music world's biggest stars. It's at this event that she meets Brown (Arlen Escarpeta) -- their first encounter is uneasy, as he takes offence at being jostled by Houston as she tries to hug someone else in the seating area, but later, backstage, they have a more amicable formal introduction that sparks the beginning of a serious flirtation.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/1/2015 (1589 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The first problem with Whitney is its title.

The implication is that the TV movie that carries it will offer a biographical look at the life and career of its subject, music legend Whitney Houston. But in truth, the movie — which airs Saturday, Jan. 17 at 7 p.m. on Lifetime — offers few insights, personal or professional, about the singer, and focuses solely on a single aspect of her troubled and too-short life.

Whitney

CP

Whitney

A more accurate title might have been Whitney and Bobby, because the movie, helmed by first-time director Angela Bassett, provides little more than a rather sanitized look at Houston's tumultuous relationship with R&B singer/songwriter Bobby Brown.

Whitney pays no attention whatsoever to Houston's early life and music-career beginnings; instead, the story opens in 1989 at the Soul Train Music Awards, with Houston (played by Yaya DaCosta) already long established as one of the music world's biggest stars. It's at this event that she meets Brown (Arlen Escarpeta) — their first encounter is uneasy, as he takes offence at being jostled by Houston as she tries to hug someone else in the seating area, but later, backstage, they have a more amicable formal introduction that sparks the beginning of a serious flirtation.

From there, Whitney focuses almost solely on the evolution of the Houston-Brown relationship, from courtship to engagement (over the protests of her family, who think Brown is too "ghetto" for their girl) to marriage to eventual ugly dissolution.

The film presents Houston as already using cocaine regularly when its story opens — again, no explanation of how or why she became a drug addict — but Brown is shown as being more of a drinker at the outset and only a drug abuser later, after having fallen prey to Houston's toxic habits.

In its glossed-over account of the relationship, and ultimately failed marriage, Whitney touches on Brown's professional jealously of his wife's much larger success, refers to his ill-advised ties to bad friends from the old 'hood and uses a single dramatized incident (in which Houston walks in on Brown and another woman in bed) to illustrate the philandering that contributed to the marriage's failure.

The movie also deals, in superficial terms, with the miscarriage Houston suffered during filming of The Bodyguard and, in 1993, the birth of the couple's only child, Bobbi Kristina. The story follows Houston as she heads back out on tour after having been pressured by record mogul Clive Davis (Mark Rolston) to support of The Bodyguard's soundtrack despite her pleas to be allowed to stay home and be a mom.

And shortly after that, the story ends, with Houston onstage in a semi-triumphant moment. The messy end of the marriage, her subsequent deepening struggles with drugs, her career decline and attempted comebacks and her death in Los Angeles on the eve of the 2012 Grammy Awards are all summed up in a few lines of onscreen text before the credits roll.

Even by the standards of superficiality applied in the TV-biopic realm, Whitney feels woefully incomplete. DaCosta and Escarpeta do the best they can with the material at their disposal, delivering credible but uninspired versions of their characters, but the script is as flimsy as it is flawed.

In the film's concert sequences, Houston's vocals are provided by Canadian singer Deborah Cox (Houston's estate would not authorize use of her recordings). The audio is adequate, but the lip-synching is clumsy to the point of looking amateurish.

Whitney comes across as the opposite of what the singer's legendary voice offered. This story is limited in range, refuses to test any boundaries and is content to remain in a safe middle range without ever soaring to heights that might thrill. And because of that, not even the most devoted Whitney Houston fan will always love this.

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @BradOswald

Brad Oswald

Brad Oswald
Perspectives Editor

After three decades spent writing stories, columns and opinion pieces about television, comedy and other pop-culture topics in the paper’s entertainment section, Brad Oswald shifted his focus to the deep-thoughts portion of the Free Press’s daily operation.

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