Film, Documentaries
4 out of 5 stars
5 out of 5 stars
(1user review)

Those ‘Amy’ comparisons are well-earned: Kevin Macdonald’s Whitney Houston doc is a visceral journey into the eye of a storm.

You don’t have to be a fan of Whitney Houston’s music to love director Kevin Macdonald’s ('Touching The Void') sharp-edged, revelatory and seriously emotional documentary about her life. Even if the very mention of ‘I Will Always Love You’ brings you out in hives, you’ll find yourself re-evaluating your feelings for this still oddly underappreciated talent. Her journey from childhood prodigy – this big-eyed girl, nicknamed ‘Nippy’, lighting up the early part of the film like a firework – to superstar mirrors Amy Winehouse’s in ‘Amy’. But strip away the tabloid tales and excess, and both have one thing in common: a childlike love of music and lungs like bellows. The power of Houston’s music is only amplified on the big screen – heck, even ‘I Will Always Love You’ sounds good here.

Of course, you don’t get far into Houston’s life without stumbling on her self-destructive streak. Macdonald doesn’t shy away from the drugs, booze and erratic behaviour that blighted her later years. There’s footage of rooms strewn with drug paraphernalia and painfully candid scenes of her and husband Bobby Brown leading each other to darker and darker places. But the most harrowing revelation of all comes during two of Macdonald’s many interviews with friends, family and associates. It’s a piece of digging that adds investigative weight to the film and a hard-hitting coda to his exploration of the fragile psychology of stardom. 

By: Phil de Semlyen


Release details

Cast and crew

Kevin Macdonald
1 person listening

This is a beautifully constructed, very moving, at times enraging and always fascinating two hours spent in the company of arguably the greatest female singer we have ever seen & heard. Whether you're a casual fan or a full-on fanatic, you won't be able to deny the talents of a woman who started singing in church, whose songs will have scored the lives of people the world over and who ultimately lost her way, unable to find the peace, support or freedom that she needed.

What I loved most about Kevin MacDonald's film was the sensitivity with which he handled the subject matter. Friends & family were interviewed respectfully but with determination on behalf of Whitney and the most shocking moments were not grotesquely dwelled upon but brought to light gently and heart-breakingly. As well as seeing things you knew and hearing songs you grew up warbling along to on a Sunday top 40 afternoon, there were also pieces of information revealed that were new to me. For the longest time Bobby Brown has seemed to be the scapegoat for Whitney's demise and whilst it's true that he was no Prince Charming, it was also obvious that she was in trouble thanks to key family members a long time before he arrived in her life. Clearly living off her and through her, their seeming lack of remorse was revolting in its unashamed nakedness.

If you have any interest in Whitney, in music, in the changing entertainment scene of the 80's & 90's, in documentary film-making or in just seeing something that will leave you thoughtfully pondering the blacks, whites and prism of greys of modern life for several days afterwards, this is a movie absolutely worth seeking out.