Whitney "Can I Be Me" | Nick Broomfield charts the soaring rise and tragic fall of a soul legend

Whitney: Can I Be Me Whitney Houston Nick Broomfield
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Whitney: Can I Be Me Whitney Houston Nick Broomfield

Whitney Houston’s majestic voice sadly takes second place to her baleful decline in the documentary Whitney "Can I Be Me" by British filmmaker Nick Broomfield.

Opening with the singer’s tragic death in a Beverly Hills hotel bathtub at the age of 48 in 2012, the film chronicles her early years in New Jersey, the daughter of gospel singer Cissy Houston (Dionne Warwick was her cousin; Aretha Franklin her godmother), her discovery as a teenager by producer Clive Davis and her stellar pop success (more consecutive number ones than The Beatles). But Broomfield spends far more time on Houston’s long, drawn-out fall from grace.

Toxic marriage

And it wasn’t just her notorious drug addiction and toxic marriage to R&B bad boy Bobby Brown that sent her on a downward spiral. Broomfield implies that other factors contributed to her descent, including her estrangement from long-time friend (and rumoured lover) Robyn Crawford, her desire for approval from a black community that dismissed her as a crossover sell-out, and her need to keep working to support a large entourage of family and friends.

Shots of Houston in her vocal pomp remind us of her uncanny talent, and there are revealing interviews along the way, plus some fascinating footage from the singer’s 1999 European tour. But as musical cautionary tales go, the resulting portrait isn’t as riveting as Asif Kapadia’s 2015 Oscar-winning documentary about another doomed pop diva, Amy Winehouse.

Certificate 15. Runtime 101 mins. Director Nick Broomfield

Whitney "Can I Be Me" released on Blu-ray & DVD by Dogwoof.


Jason Best

A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.