Whitney: Can I Be Me?: Film Review
Director Nick Broomfield
There can be no denial of the power of Whitney Houston's voice.
While Broomfield's documentary opens with the 911 call made on that fateful night in February 2012 in Los Angeles, it soon kicks back 13 years to backstage Frankfurt and allows Houston's gospel-tinged vocals to soar as she belts out "I will Always Love You".
The sheer silky ferocity of Houston's vocals are perhaps the major boon of this relatively straight, by-the-numbers documentary that follows pieces of Houston's meteoric rise and shocking fall.
Broomfield's less interested in providing a doco that's full of salacious chat or indeed any major revelations, preferring to take the route of simply telling the story of Houston, her journey from Newark, the role of her family and how it all fell apart for her.
It's in the unfurling of some unseen footage that Broomfield's piece is more of interest to fans of Houston and scenes shot backstage of Houston talking to others or leaving the stage in tears that the doco gains its edge.
Focussing on talking to family members, using archival interview footage and moments, Broomfield's piece captures some of the control of the singer's ascent, and maybe chronicles some moments that people will not fully be aware of.
But whereas the likes of Amy had more of an emotional edge due to the unfettered and meticulously assembled footage, Whitney: Can I Be Me? occasionally teeters close to hagiography because of the lack of depth. It's a very competently put together documentary, that hits a lull midway and feels like a telling of the story, rather than anything else.
That's no mean feat though - and moments such as when Houston was booed at the Soul Train awards because of her cross-racial appeal demonstrate how badly she was hurt by the business, proffering insight into how her soul was splintered gradually by a series of knocks.
The second half of the doco is perhaps the more interesting as an infinitely more sallow and drained Houston starts to manifest; the results are shocking and go some way to fulfilling some of the edges of this rise and fall doco.
If you're a Whitney Houston fan, this doco is a compelling must. But for those of us raised on docos like Asif Kapadia's Senna and Amy which manage to take subjects and make fans of non-supporters, Whitney: Can I Be Me? feels like it falters a little. It does what it can with the material that it has present, but it simply doesn't provide the emotional heft that it should.
It's a perfectly competent rise-and-fall piece, but its arguments that family and the times were responsible for what transpired aren't really backed by anything to make them simply claims.
There's no disputing the tragedy of Houston's death, and while it's best to concentrate on the legacy of the songs and celebrate the voice, Broomfield's documentary hits some of the high notes, but, by missing the more personal touches, also somehow manages to put a few beats wrong.