Distinguishing Whitney from the average Lifetime movie is the presence of an A-list actress, Angela Bassett, making her directorial debut. Perhaps Bassett, who is no stranger to biopics, jumped at the chance to direct before reading the screenplay. Shem Bitterman has written something that feels not so much like the story of Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown, but a poorly-conceived soap opera about a pair of generic R&B singers. It doesn’t help that Yaya DaCosta bears only a passing resemblance to Houston, at best. We don’t hear many of the singer’s iconic hits and the ones we do feature vocals by Deborah Cox. Arlen Escarpeta offers a relatively engaging performance as Brown. Escarpeta exhibits more natural charisma than DaCosta, which only helps make Whitney feel even more like Bobby.
Unlike Aaliyah, which boasted a decently-produced documentary as a bonus, Lionsgate has included absolutely zero extra features on their new Whitney DVD. Honestly, if you don’t already own Houston’s movies on video, say The Bodyguard or Waiting to Exhale (in which director Bassett co-starred with Houston), any of those would be a better investment. For an artist as legendary and massively popular as Whitney Houston, nothing short of an A-list, big budget theatrical release (with actual, original Houston recordings) would’ve been acceptable.
Though the filmmakers couldn’t have possibly the events that would almost immediately follow the January 2015 premiere of Whitney, this shabbily-made film plays even poorer in light of ongoing tragedies in the Houston-Brown family.