Out of all of the network's original movies I've seen in the last few months — the Saved by the Bell history, the Aaliyah life story, the Brittany Murphy debacle — I have to say with all honesty that Lifetime's Whitney Houston biopic is easily the best of the lot. That might be not be saying much, but at least it's a start. Directed by Angela Bassett (yes, that Angela Bassett), the made-for-TV movie looks at Houston's life as she met and married Bobby Brown, and then Whitney promptly ends in 1994, right as the couple started having their major problems and eventually separated in 2006. So why does Whitney end so abruptly in the singer's life and career? Because I really wish it hadn't.
Bassett has said in multiple interviews that the reasoning behind making the film was to create a loving representation of Houston's life. She also told ETOnline that the focus on Houston's relationship with Brown was due to the director's own curiosities about the couple's difficult yet "meant for each other" relationship. So ending the movie where she does, before the couple's relationship and their lives in general start to really deteriorate, makes sense from the cast and crew's point of view.
Additionally, Bassett told Entertainment Weekly that she has no interest in "dragging her life again through, you know, the muck" and that's why she was glad the script did not include Houston's death. While all of this is again, in theory, understandable, I can't help but wonder why Bassett wouldn't want to stick to a little more realism in the story. There's a reason Houston and Brown fell in love, but there's also a reason they eventually ended their marriage. If it was important to them to do so, shouldn't it be important to include that in a movie so focused on their relationship?
While I may criticize this slightly contentious creative decision on the part of the script and Bassett as director, I have to also commend the film in the parts it deserves to get applause. First and foremost, the woman who plays Houston, Yaya DaCosta, shines as the late iconic singer and her chemistry with Arlen Escarpeta, who plays Brown, is wonderful. The casting here was smart and helped elevate the, at times, rather cliched and lacking script. There are glimpses of moments where we understand how much happier and fulfilled the two singers made each other, and that gives the audience a glimpse at what Bassett saw in them: That they really were meant to be together, at least for a time.
But despite these moments, I keep going back to that ending. We see Houston taking her husband back after his first indiscretions and stint in rehab. But we don't see Houston's later, even more intense struggle with drugs, and we don't really get a sense of the deeper flaws in the relationship. We just see two lovers who seem almost star-crossed at times, thanks to Houston's mother not being a fan of Brown.
Even more annoying of a choice is when the script portrays Houston and Brown as two people who misunderstand each other, which is what appear to drives them down. While we can't know the truth of what happened in Houston and Brown's private relationship, what we can glean from interviews and events that transpired, especially Houston's 2009 interview with Oprah below, is that the two eventually dragged each other down so far, primarily through drug use, that their relationship became so toxic they had to separate, even if they did still love each other. That's the sense I didn't get in the movie, which is why the abrupt ending bugs me as much as it does.
Even if the scriptwriter and Bassett didn't want Houston to be "dragged through the muck," isn't it important to know how the relationship so carefully portrayed in Whitney really ended? Isn't it important to note that while they may have seemed like they were meant to be, things became too dysfunctional for them to remain a couple? That's the kind of realism we don't get by ending the movie in 1994, after 90 minutes of screen time. Even though it's told lovingly, that's not the full picture of Houston's life.
Image: Jack Zeman/Lifetime