Sydney Film Festival: Whitney 'Can I Be Me'

Kim Townsend
9th Jun 2017

Ok, I'll admit it, I cried in a doco. Yep, there's a first for everything, but in this case I bet I won't be the only one. As with many docos Whitney 'Can I Be Me' begins at the end. It's sad and its dramatic and we all know the fodder Whitney's not totally unexpected death provided the tabloid press. But don't expect the same from this latest instalment to her story.

What follows is a finely selected series of scenes from the ever downward  spiralling moving history of her life intricately woven together to create the whole. While the  narrator drives the pace it's the vignettes of Whitney's life offered by those that were close to her that really make this film.

And we're talking close sources here. Directors Nick Broomfield and Rudi Dolezal have pieced together interviews with those nearest to Whitney with grabs of personal footage and concert footage in a sequence that effectively captures the essence of The Fallen Star. In doing so he goes a long way to answering the question on everyone's mind. What went wrong?

Without giving too much away, it becomes very clear early in the movie that the Whitney Houston disaster began way before Bobby Brown hit the scene. The film delves into her early history and the controlling forces of her family life, then follows through with anecdotes from a huge number of her personal and professional contemporaries. Those contemporaries include, of course, her bodyguard who actually looked more like Sean Connery than Kevin Costner and definitely comes off looking like a hero.

The filmmakers have included a fine selection of Whitney's performance footage. Not content with trotting out the hits it's obvious a lot of love and care has gone in to choosing material that not only punctuates her career but offers a testimony to the natural and extraordinary vocal  talent that this woman had.

This documentary seeks to examine multiple facets of Whitney's life but without hopping on any one particular bandwagon. Sure she was affected by racial tension, yes she had fraught family relationships, of course a co-dependent self destructive marriage didn’t help but at the heart of it all and what the movie so successfully establishes, is the fact that this talented woman was a very complex and insecure artist.

For my mind, Whitney was the female version of Michael Jackson, a huge talent sucked dry by the people whose livelihoods depended on her and burnt out way too soon. What’s not to cry about? A brilliant doco – it deserves only the highest praise. 

Whitney 'Can I Be Me' screened as part of the 2017 Sydney Film Festival. It will see wide theatrical release on Thursday June 15th through Rialto Distribution.