Review: New 'Whitney' documentary examines the brilliance of a rising and falling star
Roadside Attractions, 2018.

Whitney Houston was a singular talent and the absolute definition of a superstar. But despite all of her gifts as a vocalist, performer and entertainer, her name will always be linked to tragedy. In a new documentary simply called, "Whitney," we are reminded of just how special Whitney was, and just how inconceivable it was to see her fall from such great heights.

Unfortunately, Whitney's story takes on several familiar beats, as she's not the first celebrity to succumb to the pressures that come with a life lived in the limelight. The documentary gives riveting interviews with those closest to her, from her brothers and mother, as to how she rose to fame.  There's also an interview with Bobby Brown himself, blamed by many outside of the know as the spark that caused Houston to go down in flames. In one of the most uncomfortable portions of the film, Bobby refuses to even discuss Whitney's drug addictions, and we get the sense that the filmmakers had lured him on camera. He wants to only remember the good things. Unfortunately, there was a lot of bad that went along with her stellar achievements.

"Whitney" though, is without a doubt a celebration, but it's like a party on the deck of the Titanic: We all know where the story will end, so it's hard to truly appreciate just what Whitney Houston had accomplished throughout her career and life. Her seven-consecutive number one hits is still an unmatched feat in the music industry, and her cover of Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You" from "The Bodyguard" soundtrack is still the all-time best-selling single by a female artist. There is a lot to love about Whitney, and a lot to look back on and remember fondly, and this doc does a great job in that regard of showing us Whitney at her best.

The film is not without controversy, however, and the biggest shock comes from the allegation in the film that Whitney and her brothers faced sexual abuse as children. The documentary doesn't stop there, it names names. It alleges Dee Dee Warwick, a popular soul singer in her own right, cousin to Whitney and sister of the more famous Dionne Warwick, sexually abused them for years as children. In this regard, the filmmakers handle the topic sloppily...Dee Dee died in 2008 and the film offers no rebuttal to what is an incredibly bold claim to make about a person that is not around to defend herself. And the horrific tragedy of Bobbi Kristina Brown - Whitney's only daughter who died at the age of 22 just three years after her mother - is just too unthinkable for this doc to even touch upon. In fact, where the filmmaker bravely challenges Bobby Brown on Whitney's drug problems, it cowers away from the details of Whitney's own death, ruled an accidental drowning in a tub at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in 2012.

Being the definitive documentary on Whitney Houston, it would have been appropriate for "Whitney" to cover these areas a bit better than it did. However, what is included is a series of powerful gut-punches, often times coming from Whitney herself. Watching her perform, effortlessly, like when she sang the National Anthem at the Super Bowl without even rehearsing, encapsulates everything the public ever knew about this legendary singer. Watching her, years later, talk about "Crack is Whack" in her now-famous sit-down interview with Diane Sawyer, was both disappointing and heart-wrenching.

Just like watching "Titanic," you watch "Whitney" knowing what is coming, but it is done so brilliantly in many regards, that you find yourself trying desperately to will the story in any other direction than directly into the iceberg.

Grade: B+

Rated R. 
Genre: Documentary. Run Time: 2 hours. 
Directed by Kevin Macdonald ("Black Sea," "Marley," "The Last King of Scotland," "My Enemy's Enemy").

"Whitney" opens everywhere on Friday, July 6th, 2018.