Those of us who were born before the nineties will remember the trainwreck that was Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown, culminating with a short-lived reality series in 2005, divorce in 2007 and Whitney's premature death in 2012. And because we already know it so well, Whitney concerns itself with what came before, when Whitney met Bobby and it all looked pretty good there for a while. Then life in the public eye and the pressures of warring musical careers happened.
R&B bad boy Bobby Brown (played by Arlen Escarpeta) first caught Whitney's (Yaya DaCosta) eye at the Soul Train Music Awards in 1989, and that's where our film begins. In fact, Bobby was just a bit rude to her at first, but apparently Whitney just took that as a challenge rather than a brush-off. Whitney swooned at the sight of Bobby floor-humping his way through ‘Every Little Step', like most girls in the late eighties, so we can't really blame her. What followed was a three-year courtship with plenty of ups and downs: Bobby already had two kids from previous relationships, Whitney felt she was too young to commit, Bobby was still having some run-ins with the law, Whitney started using coke a little too regularly…you get the idea.
While the two music stars always seemed a volatile match, things seemed to come to a head once their first (and only) child was born. Having just been launched into the stratosphere of popularity due to The Bodyguard film and its soundtrack, Whitney was barely given any time to recover before she was pressured into going on tour. Bobby tried to be a good husband, taking time off from his own career to accompany her and play the role of ‘Mr Houston', but it becomes obvious that hanging out in Whitney's shadow is just not for him. With her at the height of her career, and his on the wane, is it any wonder drugs, the booze and infidelity started rearing their ugly heads?
We all know the public facts of their relationship, but Whitney gives the couple a more sympathetic reading than the various entertainment news outlets have over the years. And it's no wonder, seeing as this is the directorial debut of Angela Bassett, who starred alongside Whitney is 1995's Waiting to Exhale. But Bassett unexpectedly puts most of the focus of the narrative on Bobby, exploring his motivations and defining Whitney in relationship to him, which almost makes Whitney seem like a minor character in her own film. Even so, this inside – and perhaps insider's – look at the personal turmoil of one of the greatest popular singers of all time is a worthy effort to humanise the people behind the tabloid stories.
Five Things We Learnt from Watching Whitney
- The Bodyguard is still solid entertainment. (We re-watched it for research purposes.)
- Canadian singer Deborah Cox provides the ‘Whitney' vocals, and she actually sounds quite close to the original at times. But there's still a difference, so if you're wondering why Whitney doesn't sound like Whitney, well…it's not her.
- Crack may be whack, but coke is…not good either.
- Since Whitney isn't on the radio 24/7 anymore, we almost forgot how incredible her voice is. Her big, clear notes and stylistic moderation put modern-day manufactured oversingers to shame. Absolute shame.
- We're eager to see what Angela Bassett does next in the director's chair.