Movie Review: Whitney

With the coronavirus raging in the US, we’re not going to see Hollywood get back to business anytime soon. That means that new productions are still on hold and movies that are in the can are going to sit on the shelf even longer. Just this week came news that the release dates for TENET and MULAN have been pushed off to August (the 12th and 21st, respectively). Summer is basically over and it’s not yet July.

While life in Hong Kong has moved forward as much as possible (because we’ve all been diligently wearing masks for five months), our movie distributors have had to scramble to find content to lure audiences back to the cinemas. It’s mostly been a series of mediocre fare so far but occasionally a film worth watching arrives. This week it’s WHITNEY, the 2018 documentary by Bruce Macdonald (THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND; TOUCHING THE VOID).

The subject of Whitney Houston has already been covered, first with Angela Bassett’s disappointing biopic, WHITNEY, in 2015 and more recently with Nick Broomfield and Rudi Dolezal’s 2017 documentary, WHITNEY: CAN I BE ME, so it’s reasonable to think that there isn’t anything new to learn here but you would be wrong if you did. Macdonald coaxes a bombshell revelation out of Mary Jones, Houston’s long-time personal assistant. It’s now been widely reported in the press but if you’re not up on all things Whitney, I’m not going to ruin it for you here. Certainly, for someone who hasn’t followed Houston’s rise and fall with a magnifying glass, WHITNEY contains plenty of revelations and insights into her life choices. Equally interesting are the interviews with some of the people who were closest to her and who are still in denial about their role in her demise. As tragic as her story is though, perhaps even sadder is her daughter’s brief life. Bobbi Kristina Brown never stood a chance.

Tragedy aside, WHITNEY includes plenty of seminal moments in the singing legend’s career from her TV debut in 1983 on The Merv Griffin Show when she was 19 to her singing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl in 1991. The latter is especially interesting because she sang it in 4/4 time instead of the usual 3/4 time. As someone in the film says, Houston was able to find things in songs that even the composers hadn’t considered. It’s no wonder that her version of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” spent 14 weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and is one of the best-selling singles of all time. I was living in Taiwan when the song came out in 1992 and it was playing everywhere. I remember going into a stationery shop and hearing it play non-stop on a loop. I asked the cashier if she’s sick of hearing the song all day, every day. “Oh, no,” she replied. “We love Whitney Houston.”

Yes, we do.

It was announced a few months ago that Houston’s estate has authorized a biopic about the late singer, entitled I WANNA DANCE WITH SOMEBODY. There’s no word on when it will be ready.

WHITNEY is opening here this week. It’s also available on the streaming services. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s well worth checking out.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, July 3rd, 8:30 am HK time!

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