Whitney Houston’s estate slams Lifetime biopic

20 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Whitney’ react: It’s all about Bobby.

Whitney Houston’s family says the singer’s fans should “brace themselves for the worst” if they watch Lifetime’s television movie about the late singer. There’s an excellent reason “Directed by Angela Bassett” is plastered all over the ads for Lifetime’s Whitney Houston biopic — entitled, simply, Whitney — and the reason is Aaliyah.

Though Whitney Houston’s untimely death at age 48 was one of the biggest stories in the world, Lifetime’s new biopic about the singer, “Whitney,” doesn’t include that fact.In an open letter on WhitneyHouston.com Pat wrote: “I say this to all Whitney’s family, friends and fan base: If you watch this movie, watch it knowing that Lifetime is notorious for making bad biopics of deceased celebrities and brace yourself for the worst.” Pat goes on: “What lifts up one person in the headlines may in fact destroy another.After airing “Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B” back in November, Lifetime decided to up the ante Saturday night with its latest stab at the female-pop-star biopic. I don’t think it ever entered their minds that they were assaulting the legacy of another individual; they just want the job or the opportunity to shine. “But to do so in such an incredible way, to go after someone who cannot correct what you get wrong, someone who – like so many people, and especially women – struggled to hold up their humanity and live with dignity despite their personal challenges, is wrong.” “Never would Whitney allow her story to be told by an inexperienced team and how naive of anyone to think otherwise, unless you’re caught up in illusions of grandeur that you can just do anything and people will accept it. Pat Houston, president of the singer’s estate and her sister-in-law, issued a critical statement about the movie on Houston’s website on the eve of the movie’s airing.

So Houston fans Ariana Bacle and Erika Berlin watched the Lifetime movie ahead of its Saturday premiere to see just how worthy of the anticipation it is. This time around, the cable network didn’t have to hide behind any glittering, grand titles, because the singer in question was pop-music royalty in her own right.

Read their discussion: ARIANA: So I should start by saying my expectations for this were very, very low: Between the combination of being on Lifetime and being about a woman who died just two years ago, I was convinced the movie would be an offensive and exploitative look at the darker parts of Houston’s life. In February 2012, the night before the Grammy Awards, Houston was found dead in a hotel bathtub; the cause of death was listed as drowning, heart disease and cocaine use.

This time we’re bringing in an Oscar-nominated Hollywood leading lady who starred in Waiting To Exhale — you remember, the movie where Whitney sang that ‘Shoop Shoop’ song. Though “Whitney” (airing Saturday night on Lifetime) does address Houston’s problems with addiction, the film ends years before she passes away. Her legacy as a singer, actress and trend-setter has been much imitated, but never duplicated; this could not be better illustrated in “Whitney,” in which Houston’s vocals are credibly performed by Grammy-nominated singer Deborah Cox, but fall considerably short of replicating the original. The stories of Houston’s personal life, most notably, her battles with drug addiction and her tumultuous marriage to Bobby Brown, could fill multiple Lifetime-movie installments. The public heard about their tortured relationship – involving domestic abuse and drug addiction – but Bassett says it’s important to remember that it started much differently. “Our story is only five years,” Bassett said, talking about the time span of the movie, which starts in 1989 when Houston and Brown meet at the Soul Train Awards.

Lots of those.” Whitney tells the Bobby Brown side of the story, rather than her mama Cissy Houston’s side, already detailed in the heartfelt 2013 memoir Remembering Whitney. (Best line: “As much as I love my daughter, Nippy was no angel. Bassett cited the fact that there’s only so much you can show in a two-hour (84 minutes of actual footage) TV movie, but mostly, it would be too difficult for the audience to see again. “We get an inkling. Even with Academy Award nominee Angela Bassett (who knows a thing or two about embodying an iconic superstar singer) behind the lens in her directorial debut, “Whitney.” Read on for five of the most notable takeaways from the film.

Much screen time is given to Houston’s childhood friend and longtime assistant Robyn Crawford—a woman who Houston was rumored to have a lesbian affair with. She was a runner-up on Season Three of America’s Top Model, which might explain why she does so much smizing in her version of “I’m Every Woman.” She’s almost too animated to play Whitney — she’s a much better dancer, though you can tell she’s making an effort to hold back.

We know it, and I think it would only break our hearts again, you know?” Bassett said. “And we don’t need that.” How did she stay so positive? Sure, we get to see milestones like the over-the-top purple-and-white-splashed Brown-Houston wedding, the birth of the couple’s daughter, Bobbi Kristina, and Houston at the height of her “Bodyguard” fame, but this is just as much Brown’s story as it is Houston’s. The actual singing is by Deborah Cox, the Nineties R&B diva fondly remembered for “Nobody’s Supposed To Be Here,” which ruled the radio the same winter as Whitney’s “Heartbreak Hotel” and will always reduce me to a puddle of slush. Bassett or no Bassett, Whitney is still a cheese-intensive Lifetime melodrama, using all the tricks of the trade: a young woman with big dreams, a man who fails her, family disapproval, career pressure, motherhood, lies, tears, long talks with Babyface.

There is also no shortage of moments where Brown appears drunk, unfaithful and antagonistic, which can also be described as Lifetime-movie bread-and-butter scenes. Though some drug use and infidelity is included (and there is one scene where Brown physically grabs Houston), mostly, they’re just in love over a happier time in their careers, when Houston is on top of the world with the international success of “The Bodyguard.” “I think just this five years, maybe we see who they were, what it was and in a really great world. Bassett, however, made the correct directorial decision to not take the same approach with “Whitney,” showing Houston as she was, warts (or, in this case, bumps) and all. Obviously he was going to be a major factor in this movie—they’d stated ahead of time that this was to be a love story about their early years together, and I’m fine with movies that are snapshots of a period of a few years.

Yaya DaCosta’s Houston may be sparkly and bubbly on the outside, but she’s also hitting the cocaine in every other scene and is shown smoking a cigarette while recuperating from a miscarriage. DaCosta also matches Arlen Escarpeta’s Bobby Brown note for every histrionic note, whether it’s threatening to end their engagement after learning he knocked up his ex or catching her husband in bed with a club rat.

Whitney is transfixed by seeing Bobby sing “Every Little Step.” They flirt backstage, joking about how she didn’t win any awards. (“I’m happy for my girl Anita” — sure you are, Whitney). So hopefully people will get a little more – from our 84-minute movie – insight into the journey that was the love story between Whitney and Bobby.” Also worth noting: When the film is over at 10 p.m., Lifetime airs “Bobby Brown: Remembering Whitney,” an interview between Brown and “Access Hollywood” correspondent Shaun Robinson.

They’re young, they’re in love, they’re star-crossed lovers, they fight loudly and make up passionately, and then… they stay together for another decade post-movie? Also, speaking of Bobby having all the screen time, I don’t believe this film—which is about a powerful, adored, strong woman—even passes the Bechdel Test! The movie not only ignores Houston’s death (except for an epilogue title card mention), but also 13 more years of the stormy Houston-Brown marriage, which included Brown’s alleged assault of his wife in 2003 and “crack is wack.” And having Escarpeta’s Brown watch DaCosta’s Houston lovingly from the wings with a remorseful countenance conveys a woefully false message of hope to the audience.

Even if Bassett’s intention was to use the lyrics of “I Will Always Love You” to imply that the marriage was a failure as early as 1993, it just seemed like an awkward note on which to end. Houston’s late ’80s/early ’90s big hair and spangly costumes are a spot-on match, as exemplified in the go-to musical-biopic technique of the superstar-showcasing montage in which she sings the same song (in this case, “I’m Every Woman”) in lots of different outfits (see: Lopez, Jennifer, “Selena”). DaCosta sells every bead of drug-addled flop sweat in Houston’s big breakdowns, and is suitably heartbreaking playing the desperation, shock, and despair as Bobby Brown’s extra-marital dalliances come to light. And while “Whitney” isn’t going to win Escarpeta any acting awards, it is a kick to see the “American Dreams” actor take on the antithesis of good guy Sam Walker (Brittany Snow’s sweet, African-American almost-boyfriend), even if his Bobby Brown is more of a caricature than anything else. Not like Bobby Brown would!” Mark Rolston needs to play all schmoozy record-label bosses in Lifetime movies from now on. (He was a sleazy detective on The Shield as well as a white supremacist in Lethal Weapon 2.) “How’s my favorite staaaaah?” Clive gushes as Whitney struts into his office in a yellow power suit.

Perhaps having the smugness slapped out of her by Oprah Winfrey in The Butler had the residual effect of loosening the talented, but typically constricted, actress up. With the right script, actors and budget – and Bassett behind the camera in a big-screen production – “Whitney” could have been much more than it was. Though DaCosta doesn’t do her own singing in the film, she undulates through a young Whitney Houston’s brittle emotions with the same mix of wanton recklessness and studied control the singer herself puts into her vocal runs. There’s nothing really about DaCosta’s speaking voice or physical transformation that startles you into thinking the entertainment legend has been reincarnated on screen—at least not in the way that the film’s director, Angela Bassett, was able to do when portraying Tina Turner decades ago.

Ignoring the hackneyed bow-chicka-wow-wow music for a moment, Bassett includes sex-scene shots of Escarpeta and DaCosta that leave little to the imagination and certainly stretch Lifetime’s envelope. And stay away from yellow — it makes you look like a canary.” Whitney and Bobby attend a banquet honoring her contributions to the United Negro College Fund, but Mr. She was so incredibly charming that one of my first thoughts upon finishing the movie was, “Where can I watch her season of America’s Next Top Model?” Girl can act, and girl can lip-synch.

She nails that wily, sassy side-eyed gaze Whitney always gave when she was singing, and gets in the groove of her signature shoulder pops and shoop-shoop slide-y neck moves. As our girl once sang, “When the night falls, loneliness calls.” Whit lounges in her pajamas, eating cold spaghetti while she recites the dialogue out loud along with her favorite movie. It’s the dressing-room scene where the mother confronts Lonette McKee about her no-account thug boyfriend: “Baby, he’s just gonna drag you to the gutter with him.” Foreshadowing! You brought up the miscarriage scene, and I hated not only that it got turned into a scolding about Bobby but also that Bobby literally swooped in and saved the day, in a way. Her mama’s immediate reaction: “I hope it’s not Bobby Brown.” Cissy, for some reason, is not 100 per cent overjoyed at the idea of her little Nippy marrying the artist who’s about to release “Humpin’ Around.” Yet it’s all blamed on Cissy’s snobbery, as she scoffs, “You can take the boy out the ghetto, but you can’t take the ghetto out the boy.” (Cissy is the fantastic Suzanne Douglas, who played one of Bassett’s girlfriends in How Stella Got Her Groove Back.) Suffering from career decline and writer’s block, Bobby sits at the piano crumpling up pieces of paper (as you do).

Later on in the movie, they’re snorting coke together and eventually, he ends up in rehab because it’s gotten so bad while she stays at home and scolds him for telling their secrets in group therapy. She mimes them like she’s in her childhood bedroom, the boombox is cranked up full blast, and she’s looking at herself in the mirror while mouthing the words to “I’m Your Baby Tonight” with all the conviction of Whitney Houston performing on the Grammy stage. Not mentioned in this movie: Mariah Carey, Oprah, Aretha, Dolly Parton, Kevin Costner, Silver Spoons, the Being Bobby Brown reality series, the rest of New Edition, Whitney’s best hit (“How Will I Know?”) or Whitney’s best album (My Love Is Your Love).

I was more okay with there being no resolution at the end though, because I thought it was fitting to conclude the movie with her singing—just her, thank goodness—and already had enough problems with the timeline throughout the film that I feel like skipping ahead to their relationship’s end would have only made it worse. So often biopics feel the need to cover a years-long span of a person’s life, but doing that loses the details of that person’s life that make it interesting to begin with. Not only is he painted as the compassionate, misunderstood boy from the hood who is just trying to do good by his family, but all of the sweetest tidbits from the movie were about him! We saw how Bobby “sacrificed” for their relationship, but not her (unless you count her tearfully telling him that her choosing to be with him was the first thing she’d ever done for herself).

I think there is certainly something to the power dynamic in their relationship causing major rifts—we see it all the time in celebrity couples where the woman is far more successful than the man. And I wanted an operatically trashy and creatively questionable movie about Whitney Houston that I could laugh off and even appreciate as ridiculous camp. What if they took those lyrics to heart and realized they weren’t in a healthy relationship, and that even though there was love there, they were slowly destroying each other? Even if Bobby wasn’t the one who introduced her to drugs, the two of them together didn’t foster an environment that would allow for a wholesome recovery for either.

But it feels so wrong to root for them when we know how much more there is to the story, and when—as we’ve established—the bias in favor of Bobby in this film is so obvious. This is the movie you watch if you’re okay with a simplified, romanticized look at what some would consider a disastrous relationship and not if you want to relive Whitney’s heyday or learn more about the legendary singer—until someone else makes a movie more Whitney-focused and less Bobby-centric, YouTube will probably be the best option for that.

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