Lifetime’s Whitney Houston Biopic, ‘Whitney': TV Review Roundup

January 17, 2015

The Lifetime Whitney Houston biopic, ‘Whitney,’ arrives with controversy and fanfare after months of anticipation as well as dread. What do the critics have to say of the Angela Bassett-directed movie starring Yaya DaCosta as the late legendary diva? Here’s a roundup.

Lifetime Channel charges bravely into the choppy and controversial biopic waters once again with the January 17th world premiere of ‘Whitney.’ First there was “Aaliyah: The Princess Of R&B” which proved polarizing to say the very least, and now with their Whitney Houston biopic, they have received not just a negative review, but an outright denouncement from the estate of Whitney Houston.

Pat Houston, on behalf of the entire Houston family issued a statement lengthy statement on Whitney Houston’s official Web site in advance of the movie denouncing Lifetime, the producers as well as the director Angela Bassett (who is, however, not mentioned by name.) It reads in part, “I don’t think it ever entered their minds that they were assaulting the legacy of another individual; they just want the job or the opportunity to shine. But to do so in such an incredible way, to go after someone who cannot correct what you get wrong, someone who – like so many people, and especially women – struggled to hold up their humanity and live with dignity despite their personal challenges, is wrong.”

Now, critics are weighing in and they are none too excited with the movie, although there are some notable exceptions. The reviews themselves make for fascinating reading. The social media reaction no doubt will also prove fascinating.

The casting was never really the issue; actress and ANTM alum Yaya DaCosta herself is not the focal point of criticism. Oftentimes we’ve seen virtual social media revolutions arise in response to a casting choice that seemed a bit, shall we say, unwise or ill-thought out.

But this time around, it’s both the medium — television — and the focus on the Whitney Houston-Bobby Brown relationship which are under the microscope. The family has already stated that they felt the late legendary diva’s story was more appropriate for the big screen, not the small screen.

And, too, should there be a rehash of the drama that played out in tabloids and in reality television as the Whitney Houston who hit a zenith in the 1980s and early 1990s was seen to have a tragic downward spiral. As some of the critics point out, the movie does not delve headlong into tabloid muck and mire, but much screen time is devoted to the relationship between Whitney Houston and her husband and fellow R&B singer Bobby Brown (portrayed by Arlen Escarpeta). Those hoping for pure tragedy or pure triumph will find neither but some lukewarm mixture of the two which is not sitting well with everyone, most notably the family, as mentioned.

So now we have the voices of critics weighing in on all of this. Here’s a roundup.

“…. “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. […] It’s a better-than-average Lifetime film — and at its boudoir heart, it is very much a Lifetime film.” As the title character, “DaCosta is remarkably convincing lip-syncing to Cox’s re-recordings of Houston’s hits. 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.”…..” LA Times

“…Angela Bassett’s drama about Houston’s life, covering the five years after she met her husband Bobby Brown, wisely doesn’t pretend to have the big answers, or even a lot of the small ones. […] So “Whitney” is an odd mix. The love feels real, and you begrudge them none of it. Yet the problems are just as real, and it’s hard to see what could have averted them…..” — New York Daily News

“…One day a great film might be made about Houston’s life, but “Whitney” is not it. While neither overly salacious or reverent, “Whitney” — which focuses almost exclusively on her relationship with Brown — lacks dynamism in telling the tale of a very dynamic life, and falls short of illuminating anything about Houston that both diehard fans and casual observers of pop culture didn’t already know. …” — The Boston Globe

“…. Based on Lifetime’s recent track record with biopics, “Whitney” didn’t inspire much confidence, especially with “Directed by Angela Bassett” seemingly being all the network could muster to promote it. But what emerges is surprisingly compelling, if decidedly constricted take on the singer’s life, focusing squarely on her relationship with Bobby Brown, and ending well before her untimely death at age 48. Mostly, the whole exercise benefits from the radiance of Yaya DaCosta (seen in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler”) in the title role, who brings a star quality to the thin material worthy of the artist she portrays. .….” — Variety

“….While there are hints of increasing drug abuse, and a darkness that is beginning to engulf Houston and Brown’s relationship, Whitney ends before any of it truly unravels. In some ways, its finale feels abrupt. But the decision to focus just on Houston’s most meteorically successful years — where, for a little while, she probably was happy — makes Whitney a fairly flattering portrait that is only lightly a cautionary tale. The signs are there, but they are left to viewers to interpret. …” — The Hollywood Reporter

“…. Maybe “fantastical history” is the term? For two hours, this film cherry-picks moments of Ms. Houston’s life — some recognizable, some not — and stitches them together into a perplexing, not altogether comforting quilt. .….” — The New York Times

Now that critics have weighed in, the reactions and reviews of fans will no doubt drive discussion for some time to come. Months of discussion have ensued already even without the release of the movie. For those who are disappointed, the Whitney Houston movie of dreams will be just that, until the next time around, if there is one. And most certainly, let’s hope so!

A trailer for Lifetime’s ‘Whitney’ is below.

Pictures: PR Photos

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