Whitney: Can I Be Me – Film Review by Louise O’Meara
Directors: Nick Broomfield, Rudi Dolezal
Writer: Nick Broomfield
Stars: Whitney Houston, Bobbi Kristina Brown, Bobby Brown
“Money can’t buy you happiness” as the saying goes. Nick Bromfield’s fascinating new documentary about Whitney is a cautionary exploration of the axiom.
Structured as an understated “Who dunnit” explorative tragedy, much like Asif Kapadia’s documentary about Amy Winehouse, Bromfield’s film begins with the death of the singer. Houston, who was found dead in her hotel room bathtub at the age of 48, was considered a God given talent, wooing millions of fans the world over. So how did her life end amidst such tragic circumstances?
Bromfield is subtly skilled in unearthing this mystery. Her death is unnatural and so what circumstances and perhaps people are to blame here. Whitney was catapulted to fame before she even reached her twentieth birthday and it is clear from the footage that she was uncertain of her grounding in life, of who she was and who she wanted to be. Before she got a chance to discover this, her talent for singing had thrown her onto a public platform and quickly those around her began to mould her to their liking.
Her entire family began to work for her and so she became their boss and their source of income, an occupation that would remove her family as an unbiased party for support. Clive Davis, the white boss of her former record company had a vision for a new popstar and Whitney had the voice. Whether she wanted to sing that music or not wasn’t brought into question.
And the saga goes on, seemingly relentlessly, her choices just seem to fuel her further into the depths of despair, drugs providing her with a much needed numbing solace for the pain her unauthentic existence seems to be bringing her.
Her father betrays her by suing her, her husband repeatedly strays, her best friend and companion leaves and her mother, jealous of her success, stands aside. And all this happens as Whitney lives out a superstar career on the public stage.
Bromfield’s documentary is a fascinating story that cannot help but evoke empathy in its audience. Although there are some interviews missing, that of Robin Crawford and Bobby Brown, this documentary uses enough past interviews and backstage footage to give the impression of a deeply personal look into Houston’s life.