"Whitney," a biopic of the singer
That it was made isn't surprising: Houston was famous, beloved and influential — we are still traveling in the widening wake of her melisma — and the shoulder-padded, big-hair '80s-'90s are a locus for nostalgia for people who are in charge of making movies nowadays.
But though it works in parts and pieces — were you to be shown any random scene out of context, you might imagine a better picture — it doesn't add up to much.
While this is true of most such films, the appeal of making them remains enormous. For the filmmaker, a famous subject pre-sells the film; you can borrow energy from the original item, like a bicyclist drafting behind a semi.
The appeal of inhabiting a brilliant famous person is attractive to actors; the chance to make the past live stirs the juices of designers. For the viewer, there is the promise of being taken to the heart of a mystery, to learn what the facts alone can't tell you.
It's all fiction, in the end, of course, bits of the actual filtered through a writer's imagination, a director's vision, an actor's interpretation. And where wholly invented characters can seem deeply complicated and wholly real, most impersonations — though they do sometimes stand on their own — usually break down beside their ultimately unknowable originals.
"Whitney" reunites first-time director Angela Bassett with screenwriter Shem Bitterman, who wrote the 2013 Lifetime double-biopic "Betty and Coretta." It's a better-than-average Lifetime film — and at its boudoir heart, it is very much a Lifetime film.
Indeed, it might more accurately be called "Whitney and Bobby," since it begins with Houston (
Much of it feels extracted from other films, as when a frustrated Brown goes into a bar and says "make it double" or Houston regards herself in a mirror before doing a line of cocaine or writer's block is represented by wadded up pieces of paper and a piano covered in empty bottles. For that matter, it begins just like "A Star Is Born," with the principals meeting cute at an awards show and continues on into a similar story of love at the mercy of dueling careers (and substance abuse).
The leads, including Yolonda Ross as
But though DaCosta and Escarpeta each creates a sympathetic character — at times, the picture feels meant to make you forget you ever saw "Being Bobby Brown" — they lack chemistry. For all the script insists otherwise, their love, and thus the film about it, feels something less than necessary.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday