When English documentary film director Nick Broomfield is good (‘Biggie and Tupac’, 'Aileen‘), he is an investigative filmmaker and interviewer at the height of his powers. When he isn’t so good (‘Kurt and Courtney’), he comes off as mean-spirited, un-objective bully.
With his latest music-themed documentary, ‘Whitney: Can I Be Me?’, Broomfield blessedly steps back from the type of interventions which made 1998’s ‘Kurt and Courtney’ such a strange, pointed slog. Using his considerable powers of persuasion, dogged detective skills and the amazing discovery of never-seen-before footage from her 1999 tour of Europe, Broomfield delivers the enthralling tale of how a working-class girl from Newark, New Jersey became America's pop princess of late-1980s and early-1990s.
Broomfield mixes up old interviews with new, puts current-day voices over old clips and vice versa, and relies very heavily on previously unseen footage from Whitney’s giant, global 1999 tour, the 'My Love Is Your Love', 64-date gig in which rumours of drug use started to leak out and Whitney, dressed in Dolce & Gabbana, began to slowly, publicly crack.
Throughout the documentary, Houston’s bodyguard, a real-life counterpart to her fictional protector played by Kevin Costner in the 1992 film ‘The Bodyguard’, talks about the warning letters he wrote to people in her life. He insists that if they had listened to him she wouldn’t have died on the 27th May 2012.
Houston’s brothers talk about their own use of heroin as pre-adolescents, and the milieu of drugs that surrounded the singer. They aren’t specific, however, about what the singer herself took while growing up. “Crack started in the 80s - it was around her,” Broomfield says. “And there was coke. People talk about the marijuana.” Watching her booed on the TV show Soul Train because she was supposedly selling out black music with her crossover appeal or witnessing an outtake during a promotional interview, it's easy to see how the mega-successful singer tried to find solace in God, self-confessed bad boy Bobby Brown (although their relationship is depicted as sunnier than the tabloid portrayals) and drugs.
Broomfield delivers the enthralling tale of how a hood girl from Newark, New Jersey became America's pop princess of late-1980s and early-1990s.
The Houston estate does not like this film and has tried and failed to stop it. Long for a documentary (at 111 minutes) and almost comprehensive (covering almost 13 years between the 'My Love Is Your Love' tour and Houston’s death), ‘Whitney: Can I Be Me?’ heartbreakingly foreshadows 2015’s ‘Amy’, with the added top-note that the singer’s 24-year-old daughter would die in similar circumstances less than three years later.
Broomfield says the ultimate goal for his film is to celebrate the star’s talent, and to reveal her as a person. In this regard, ‘Whitney: Can I Be Me?’ is a success and the film is worth watching to see the different facets of Whitney: the sublime artist, bi-sexual lover, self-destroyer, and caring human being.