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REVIEW: Whitney: Can I Be Me

FALLEN STAR: Whitney Houston

"WHITNEY DIED from a broken heart." That’s one of the first phrases that ring true in the new documentary Whitney: Can I Be Me, which documents the dramatic rise and fall of the music icon.

Much like Michael Jackson’s demise; a controlling parent, pressures of supporting an entire family and a damaging drug use is at the centre of it all - but for the first time, we get to understand when and why Whitney’s fate was sealed early in her youth, with a few surprising revelations thrown in the mix.

Whitney: Can I Be Me manages to dispel some myths behind the legend, revealing the hidden side to the star affectionately known to friends and family as "Nippy" – from her drug fuelled past that started with her family, to her controlling relationship with mother Cissy Houston.

Directed by Nick Broomfield and Rudi Dolezal, the 105-minute documentary begins with clips of Whitney from her My Love Is Your Love World Tour - the final world tour, which caused controversy due to reports about her erratic behaviour behind the scenes. As we begin to remember the decline of the fallen star, we are then taken back to clips of a young Whitney Houston from Newark, New Jersey and explore the relationship with her family.

Through a montage of family clips, we discover that the star was first introduced to drugs by her two brothers and grew up in a culture heavily dominated by religion yet contrived with this seedy underbelly of drug use, which was used “for fun “as described by Whitney's brother. This theme of religion is prevalent throughout the documentary, as it disperses clips from Whitney singing at church to her first televised appearance at the age of 19.

CONTROVERSIAL: Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown

The squeaky clean appearance perfectly cultivated by record exec Clive Davis, further reveals the racial conflict between black America and the desire to make Whitney palatable to white audiences which was brilliantly executed with commentary from key figures of Whitney’s record label, Arista Records. This need to be “anti-black” was just one of the many ways that showed Whitney’s battle within herself, as she fought between the controlled image that was projected to the world, and who she really was.

Beyond the origins of Whitney's carefully curated image, the documentary seamlessly introduces the moment Bobby and Whitney first met at the Soul Train Awards- a moment, which defined the trajectory of Whitney’s remaining years as revealed within the documentary.

Broomfield seems to have aimed for the same kind of interview style as Asif Kapadia’s Amy Winehouse documentary Amy (2015), despite failing to get access to some of the key figures in Whitney’s life including Cissy Houston, Clive Davis and Bobby Brown. Despite this, the use of archival clips helps to make up for it, in addition to interviews with Houston’s entourage.

The documentary takes an even more tragic turn as we witness clips of a young Bobbi Kristina singing with her mother, while Whitney’s personal security guard recalls the frequent drug use by everyone in Whitney’s camp and stated that "there was no chance" for little Bobbi Kristina. “Everybody did drugs,” he continued as he discussed his relationship with the superstar.

One of the key people in Whitney's life also received a special focus in the documentary – Robyn Crawford - arguably one of the most influential people in Whitney’s life. Robyn, a best friend of Whitney since the beginning of her career, was instrumental as the musician’s sole best friend and confident, who was also subjected to lesbian rumours and a rival between herself and Bobby Brown. While the mysterious figure didn't appear the film, her presence was largely felt throughout, particularly in regards to discussions about Whitney’s sexuality.

In the end, Whitney: Can I Be Me reveals an insightful perspective into Whitney's life, and balances the tragedy with the light and laughter of Whitney’s personality, which shone bright in the close up, never-seen-before concert footage.

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