Whitney Houston: A Tragic Love (2015)
Whitney Houston had a brief but successful film career, debuting with the blockbuster The Bodyguard (1992) and following that with the well-received Waiting to Exhale (1995) and The Preacher’s Wife (1996). Yet from its opening line, this biopic submits that her most demanding role was playing the part of Whitney Houston.
“Time to be Whitney Houston” she states before greeting her adoring fans at a music awards ceremony. Impressed by the performance (and abs) of Bobby Brown, Whitney invites him to her 26th birthday party where it is immediately established that she takes drugs, and he doesn’t. Nonetheless, they do bond through other shared experiences and their subsequent tumultuous relationship occupies this film’s duration.
Though Houston’s drug-use does feature prominently (she snorts cocaine at least three times in the first half-hour), Brown’s indiscretions are also explored, but in a much more positive light. He may have fathered children to a variety of women, but he always makes sure they are taken care of. He gets an ex-girlfriend pregnant, but he and Whitney were on a break. He does eventually succumb to using drugs and cheating on his wife, but that’s because he was struggling with being identified as Mr Houston.
Despite limiting itself to a relatively brief period in Houston’s short life, this film provides only a superficial look at the troubled star. Full renditions of Houston’s songs are welcome, but when combined with multiple love-making scenes attesting to Brown’s sexual prowess and mind-numbing expositional dialogue (even Babyface gets a chance to reveal his story), there is little time for much else within the film’s 90 minute running time.
Performances are good throughout, and first-time director Angela Basset handles her duties well. No stranger to musical biopics, Bassett has portrayed Biggie Smalls’ mother in Notorious (2009), the matriarch of the Jackson family in The Jacksons: An American Dream (1992) and Tina Turner in What's Love Got to Do with It (1993). In that film the diva escapes an abusive relationship to make a triumphant comeback. There would be no such happy endings for Whitney.
as Whitney Houston
as Bobby Brown
as Eddie Murphy
as Nick Nolte
Bobby Brown performed ‘My Prerogative’ at the 1989 Soul Train Music Awards, not ‘Every Little Step’.
No scene recreations in this biopic, though the soundtrack and making of The Bodyguard (1992) is referenced several times. Footage from Sparkle (1976), which Houston would remake in 2012, is also included.