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Whitney: Can I Be Me? - Review

Whitney: Can I Be Me?

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 2.5 out of 5

FOUR years after the death of singer Whitney Houston, Nick Broomfield attempts to gain a greater understanding of her rise and fall in his new documentary, Whitney: Can I Be Me?.

But while interesting and certainly tragic, the film itself struggles to delve beyond the superficial. Instead, it tells an overly familiar tale of the pitfalls of fame in which various people close to the late singer get to interpret why things went bad from their observational point of view.

Rather than probing deeper, however, or putting any of the key players properly on the spot, Broomfield really only scratches the surface, filling in a few blanks surrounding Houston’s life but also failing to paint a broader picture of the double tragedy at play, which extended to the death of Houston’s daughter too.

Hence, for Houston’s die-hard fans, still mourning the loss of an incredible vocalist, this may not tell them a great deal more than they already know. For those who knew and respected Houston as a hit-maker turned occasional actress, it’s an interesting watch, but a familiar one.

As expected, Can I Be Me? charts Houston’s rise from crumbling, riot-strewn Newark to world-wide singing sensation, whose own personality seldom got chance to shine through.

Indeed, one of the seminal moments in her career trajectory came at the Soul Train Music Awards in 1989 when, despite having sold 25 million copies worldwide for her albums Whitney Houston (1985) and Whitney (1987) she was booed for having sold out her heritage, or going pop. This left her predictably devastated.

There follows a string of key moments in her life that would eventually contribute to the fragile state of mind, and broken heart, that many feel played as big a part in her death as the drink and drugs she eventually became addicted to.

These included her complex relationship with intimate friend and associate Robyn Crawford, her controversial marriage to bad boy Bobby Brown and her fallout with her father over money. Broomfield uncovers some candid observations from those who witnessed these relationships – including her former bodyguard Dave Roberts – but never probes the actual principals.

The result means that Whitney: Can I Be Me feels as frustrating as Houston’s story itself: a film that serves as a cautionary tale for many fame-chasers, which is steeped in tragedy, but one that struggles to achieve the level of insight of, say, Asif Kapadia’s Amy, or intensity of Broomfield’s previous work.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 105mins
UK Release Date: June 16, 2017