Whitney Houston’s Story in a Lifetime Film

20 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Whitney’ recap: The legend of Saint Bobby.

While Lifetime’s Whitney Houston biopic was packed with many hell-to-the-yes moments, not everyone was happy to see a skewed version of the singer’s life story on the small screen. Making an earnest attempt to live up to that challenge, the Lifetime network, saddled as it is by a history of hilariously atrocious treatments of celebrity lives (like Liz and Dick) seems to have made a solid choice in putting Houston’s Waiting to Exhale co-star Angela Bassett at the helm. Perhaps no one was more upset about Whitney than Houston’s own family, who shared a long statement criticizing the unauthorized biopic on the singer’s official site.

And “selective history” isn’t quite right either; that implies a narrative arc sandpapered down to cohesion in service of one idea about a person. In her directorial debut, Bassett–no stranger to tumultuous singers’ lives, having earned an Oscar nomination as Tina Turner in What’s Love Got to Do With It–does a commendable job squishing Houston’s lifetime of bad choices, career highs and personal lows into just two hours. The statement, penned by Houston’s sister-in-law Pat Houston, slams Lifetime and director Angela Bassett for airing a subpar quality movie based on Houston’s life from the perspective of ex-husband Bobby Brown. “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 Houston writes, referring to similar films about Aaliyah, Brittany Murphy and Saved By the Bell. “You should not be surprised that someone decided to do a made for TV biopic.

The costume designer, Mona May, was on-point with the lace-and-leather ensembles, sequined gowns, and retro looks that captured the era (find out more about May’s work here). She was somewhat exasperated and said she did not get it – that a woman who claimed to be her aunt’s friend would direct a movie that seems so unloving towards her Aunt, and how it could affect her cousin Krissi.

I share with you the thoughts I shared with my daughter yesterday – that there is often a fine line that separates elevation and degradation in the industry. Before she walks away, leaving him wanting more, she says, “As of tonight, I’m a Bobby Brown fan,” and then he’s all, “I’m gonna ask you out,” and America collectively sighs. 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. 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. 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.

It might have more aptly been named “Whitney and Bobby.” Naturally, their story begins when Whitney falls madly in love with Bobby at the Soul Train awards in 1989, despite the fact that he yelled at her for kicking his chair. We have dealt with her every emotion from the day she was born until the day she died, which gives us absolute position and absolute authority as a family to feel the way we do about her legacy. 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.

Houston’s own — the film was directed by Angela Bassett and written by Shem Bitterman — but it feels as if it were conceived and executed from afar. 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. Clive, wearing a pair of tangerine glasses, drills Whitney about ordering cheeseburgers and presumably dating Eddie Murphy, which is such an early 1990s conversation to have. As we once again enter a season of bereavement and the strategic timing so close to the anniversary of Whitney’s death, this is a disappointment that any of us who loved her could do without.

Then, a shirtless Bobby gets a heck of a mail delivery: A check for over $24,000,000 and an invitation to Whitney’s 25th birthday party. (Note to self: find mail key.) He puts a shirt on for the occasion. On their next date, Whitney and Bobby talk about their childhood and his kids, but that date jumps to the bedroom, and y’all—the sex scenes are raunchy. At the party, Whitney offers Bobby some cocaine, but he tsks tsks tsks and says he doesn’t do such things because he’s “seen too many bad outcomes.” (Did you feel that foreshadowing there?) Whitney takes him to her studio and he continues to play the straight man to her party girl, but it’s their shared love of Sparkle that really brings them together.

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). Even if that’s not true, it’s unlikely that he served only as a moral, responsibility-spouting counterbalance, as he is consistently painted in this film.

Then Bobby tells her, “I used to think that you were some kind of goddess, but you’re way more than that: you’re real,” and you can practically see her heart go pitter-pat over that malarkey, because girls are silly like that. At Clive Davis’s office, the orange spectacle wearing music impresario tells her not to date Eddie Murphy or wear yellow (wisdom to live by), and hooks her up with his new-hire LA Reid, who is already working with Bobby Brown.

Cut to another ballroom where Whitney is getting an award and a really poorly cast Eddie Murphy stand-in is presenting her with said award in a lascivious manner via a remote video link from the set of Another 48 Hours, and Bobby is not having it. But misrepresenting the term friendship to advance an agenda is not only disrespectful and dishonest but a slap in the face to her true and loyal friends. He gives Whitney a hard time in the limo ride home, but she is able to tease him out of his bad mood. (Yes, that is foreshadowing you hear.) They make up in the bedroom, but their detente is temporary. 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. The invitation helpfully reads, “You Are Cordially Invited to Whitney Houston’s 26th Birthday Party.” Whitney lures Bobby upstairs, casually snorting fistfuls of blow as she walks him through her private trophy room, with a piano and gold records all over the walls. (Jesus, that is some un-Whit-worthy wood paneling.) He looks into her eyes and charms her with his patented Bobby Brown sweet-talk: “Up close, you are so friggin’ beautiful.” Before you know it, they’re bonding over her VHS tape of the Seventies girl-group movie Sparkle. (“Irene Cara, she was something!” “Wasn’t she?”) When Whitney confesses that she tends to scare men away, he replies, “Maybe they just don’t know how to handle you.

Whitney heads to the studio with a new hairstyle and a new tune, “I’m Your Baby Tonight,” but it’s the same old song: She grills everyone for details about Bobby Brown. 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. But when Whitney breaks the news to her family, Cissy Houston/Mary J Blige look alike (Suzzanne Douglas) is 100% against it, saying the most quotable line from the first hour, “You can take the boy out of the ghetto, but you can’t take the ghetto out of the boy.” Simple poetry. In the spirit of Whitney’s ‘I Go To The Rock’: ‘On Christ the solid rock I stand… all other ground is sinking sand.’ Let’s just be peaceful in all of this. 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! Houston’s pyrotechnics. (The music is replicated serviceably by the pop-R&B producer RedOne.) This makes for at least one kind of improvement over Lifetime’s recent tragically clunky Aaliyah biopic: “Whitney” is better in other ways, too, but the verisimilitude in the music is paramount, with the outstanding costume design by Mona May — all sharp shoulders and billowy dresses — a close second. But both of these films lack so much that their reasons for being feel flimsy. “Whitney” is being shown in conjunction with “Bobby Brown: Remembering Whitney,” an hourlong interview with Mr. He comes off as meditative and warm, if somewhat selective in memory. “I know the role I played in Whitney’s life,” he says, “and it’s not the role that they think I played in Whitney’s life.” He says the first time he saw Ms. Houston use cocaine was on their honeymoon. (For what it’s worth, that’s not the story the film tells.) And he says he never felt threatened by the size of Ms.

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). He stops to get a drink and comes home to find Whitney singing, “Jesus Loves Me” to Bobbi Kristina, and all those Bodyguard memories come flooding back.

BROWN.” It’s okay though because they go backstage, do a couple bumps of cocaine (together!), and launch into the best music montage thus far in the movie—”I’m Every Woman” Whitney is so on point that your head will spin. Brown, who was not involved with the film, answers the what-if with an elegant statement of almost-regret: “Sometimes we, you know, love a person so hard that we’re loving them wrong, and maybe I did that.” It’s a sentiment the creators of “Whitney” may well relate to, when they have the chance to look back. Enter Clive Davis with a copy of Billboard to report that “I Will Always Love You” has been on the top of the charts for weeks and he wants to talk touring. So Clive calls Bobby to help him convince Whitney to tour because The Bodyguard is such a big hit. (It’s also the reason the at-home audience is being treated to so many Kevin Costner commercials.) Even though he already has a record label, for some reason Bobby thought Clive wanted to sign him.

When it turns out the meeting is all about Whitney, Bobby heads straight to a bar and orders a vodka with a side of bitterness and a dollop of regret. It’s a rush of room changes, costume changes, new hairstyles, Bobby feeling back-burnered, and Whitney doing cocaine to get through it all while “I’m Every Woman” plays. He’s angry that he’s not as popular as his wife and that he has to turn down groupies who then subject him to groupie trash talk (“Who are you now? They both drink heavily and then smoke pot in the hotel room even though everyone who watches Lifetime knows it’s a gateway drug and soon Bobby will be doing crack in the bathroom.

He then says, “How can you stop when the person you love is just as bad as you are?” Bobby’s comments get leaked to the press and Whitney accuses him of trying to ruin her.

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