It’s no secret that viewers of Lifetime’s shambolic ‘Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B’ shuddered when greeted with news that the women’s network would tackle an unauthorized biographical account of pop icon Whitney Houston. While comforted by thoughts that the film’s director, Houston’s ‘Waiting To Exhale’ co-star Angela Bassett, at least knew her personally, the absence of familial support or involvement (just like the Wendy Williams produced affair) discouraged some fans from lending support.
At That Grape Juice, we initially shared that same skepticism. After one view of the emotional rollercoaster that is Lifetime’s ‘Whitney,’ however, we can say with certainty that this could very well be the TV event of the season.
Read why below:
Angela Bassett has made it well known that ‘Whitney’ is not a full length biopic, per se. Instead of recouting the singer’s entire life, it primarily and heavily focuses on the “largeness” of Houston’s and Brown’s life and love during the early phase of their relationship. As such, fans hoping to learn more about the superstar pre- or post-Brown will be disappointed as display there is sparse. But, like Bassett has consistently emphasized in interviews, the film, in its brevity of scope, is “honest.”
When pressed by reporters on why she did not concentrate on the more notorious aspects and decline of Houston’s career, she said:
“Do we really need to see that? She was a mother, sister, friend. We forget that she just wanted to live a normal life.”
The “honesty” prescribed by Bassett can be found in the light, but still very present, tackle of Houston’s demons – jealousy from Brown, the pressures of fame, the pursuit of normalcy, and, of course, drug use. But, what we appreciated is that none of the aforementioned became so much the focus of the film that it lost its way and demonized the music couple.
The two were just “crazy in love,” as Whitney said in her now famous interview with Oprah Winfrey, and the cast of Yaya DaCosta (Whitney) and Arlen Escarpeta could not have been a better choice. Given the former’s limited acting experience, viewers will be pleasantly surprised at how well she carried the magnitude of capturing the essence of one of music history’s biggest characters without looking like a poor ‘SNL’ skit. Like DaCosta, Escarpeta does not do Brown’s character the injustice of “parody,” but instead humanizes a long-damned figure of pop culture who is often credited with ruining Houston’s “national treasure.”
Overall, while a bit too careful in parts of telling Whitney’s story, ‘Whitney’ walks a fine line of honesty and taste – a quality we appreciate. Casting (especially that of Clive Davis) was almost eerily spot on and, unlike the Aaliyah film, the inclusion of Houston and Brown’s actual music makes an enormous difference.