‘Whitney’ react: It’s all about Bobby

20 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

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

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. 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.

‘s family says the singer’s fans should “brace themselves for the worst” if they watch Lifetime’s television movie about the late singer that premieres Saturday. 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. 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. Complicating the encounter was Houston’s vocal opposition to “Whitney,” debuting Saturday at 8 p.m. and focusing on her daughter’s volatile relationship with Bobby Brown and her escalating drug use. (“Please, please let her rest,” Houston pleaded last year.) A longtime Maplewood resident who appeared opposite “Whitney” director Angela Bassett in “How Stella Got Her Grove Back,” starred in the long-running WB sitcom “The Parent ‘Hood” and is an accomplished jazz vocalist (suzzannedouglas.com), Douglas quickly changed tack. “Just as a mother, I’m thinking to myself, if I had lost my most precious gift, my daughter, how would that make me feel?,” she recalls in a phone interview Thursday. “So I wanted, out of respect, her just to see me as a fan.

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. 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. As I extended my hand, I simply said, ‘Thank you for your work.'” Houston had already made her objections known when Douglas was cast in the role last summer, but the family’s opposition did not — could not, she says — weigh on her mind. “As an actor, it’s not my place to allow the outside world to influence what I’m doing in a scene with my fellow actors,” she says. She said she didn’t think it entered the minds of anyone involved with the project that “what lifts up one person in the headlines may in fact destroy another.” A Lifetime representative said Saturday the network had no comment. 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.

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.

Really: I would have finished the film convinced it was a Bobby Brown biopic had I not seen the opening title that reads “Whitney.” But just because it surpassed my (again, very low) expectations doesn’t mean Whitney‘s a successful portrayal of the singer’s life. My daughter came home from high school yesterday and shared with me inquiries she had endured from her peers and teachers about the upcoming TV movie about her aunt Whitney. One can only imagine how all that become heightened when you’re at a certain level of celebrity.” At that time in her daughter’s life, Douglas says, Cissy was struggling with the prospect of losing her daughter emotionally, psychologically and physically. “I can only imagine that she may have wanted a different sort of life for her. 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. 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,” like its subject matter, is a big old mess.

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. There’s a tug and pull within Cissy of how to allow her daughter to be her own woman, and at the same time wanting to protect her children from the big bad world.” Bassett calls the film a cautionary tale, and while “Whitney” ends just as her drug problems and troubled marriage are becoming tabloid fodder (and the movie makes no mention of the fact that her chronic cocaine use contributed to her 2012 drowning death), Douglas says that’s part of the point — that seemingly small decisions can have a ripple effect. “I tell young people all the time, the choices you make now, in a fleeting moment, will determine the rest of your life. 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. 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.

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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.

First scene: our girl in her limo, en route to the 1989 Soul Train Awards, sighing, “Time to become Whitney Houston.” You can instantly tell this is the kind of low-budget Lifetime movie where they scrounge up a couple dozen extras to play an entire mob of fans swarming the red carpet. 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. 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). 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.

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? But all we get after that is another melodramatic fight, Houston and Brown tearfully cradling each other, and then Houston deciding to give Brown “one more chance” (huh?), as long as he never mentions her so-called drug problems again. 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! Bassett then slaps a performance of DaCosta lip-syncing Deborah Cox’s middling version of “I Will Always Love You” onto the end of the movie and we’re just supposed to walk away? 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.

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. 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”). 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.

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. With the right script, actors and budget – and Bassett behind the camera in a big-screen production (none of this Lifetime nonsense) – “Whitney” could have been much more than it was.

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. 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. 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.

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!

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. 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. Lines never uttered in this movie: “Hell to the no,” “Crack is wack,” “I don’t know why I like it — I just do,” “I want to dance with somebody who loves me.” 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). The movie Sparkle was brought up twice—once when she was describing her love of the film to Bobby on a date, and once when she was laying in bed mouthing along to dialogue.

Showing Whitney onstage, in the spotlight, singing her signature song—which happens to be one of the most popular songs of all time—while Bobby stands on the sidelines really sums up most of their relationship for me. True, there’s no resolution—and you’re right, there wasn’t time for one—but I think it did manage to end on a particularly heartbreaking note. 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.

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