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Review: A Whitney Houston Documentary, Dutifully Respectful


Whitney Houston, as seen in the documentary “Whitney: Can I Be Me.”

Showtime Networks

The British investigative documentarian Nick Broomfield is a natural sensationalist, drawn to bit players in tabloid dramas. His prying questions and incessant voice-overs suggest a cross between a Fleet Street reporter and the Energizer Bunny.


Trailer: ‘Whitney: Can I Be Me’

A preview of the film.

By DOGWOOF PICTURES on Publish Date August 16, 2017.

Image courtesy of Internet Video Archive.

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For better or worse, Mr. Broomfield’s sleazy style gives his documentaries personality. Thus, viewers of his conspiracy-minded films about the deaths of other stars (“Kurt and Courtney,” “Biggie and Tupac”) may feel duped by “Whitney: Can I Be Me,” a surprisingly conventional, dutifully respectful behind-the-scenes portrait of Whitney Houston’s rise and struggles with fame and drugs before her death at 48. (A competing Houston documentary has been announced.)

As the movie intercuts testimonials from Ms. Houston’s friends, family and collaborators with footage from her 1999 tour — shot by Rudi Dolezal, who shares directing credit — Mr. Broomfield is heard only occasionally and never shown. We learn about the forces that weighed on the superstar singer, including the criticism she faced for embracing pop instead of rhythm and blues; speculation about her sexuality; and, in the movie’s telling, the feud between her husband, Bobby Brown, and Robyn Crawford, her friend and possible lover.

Skillful editing of old interviews makes it difficult to keep track of who agreed to participate (and some songs, such as “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me),” are noticeable by their absence). The most charged assertions come from Ms. Houston’s former bodyguard David Roberts, who says his warnings about the singer’s need for help went unheeded. In music documentaries, sadly, that sentiment is hardly unique.

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