First off, I have to confess I’ve never been a Whitney Houston fan. Her voice was, of course, sublime, but I’ve never been into big ballads. Whitney’s oeuvre is, of course, the big ballad. What I knew about her as a person was that she married a bad boy and he got her into drugs. When she died, I blamed Bobby Brown — he dragged her down. So it was with trepidation that I watched her new bio pic, Can I Be Me?

However, director Nick Broomfield certainly opened my eyes to several things.

First: though Whitney was very regal, her childhood was less so. She came from a rough place and wasn’t above scrapping with the best of them. She wasn’t the angel that I had imagined. The elegance she became known for  was carefully constructed. I won’t give away more.

Second: look closely are her early photos She was very tomboyish. Almost mannish. Draw your own conclusions. I drew mine.

Third: she was no stranger to drugs. They had been part of her life since her teen years. But it seems that she couldn’t control it. Bobby Brown could. Maybe it was the fame, maybe it was simply her personality. Watch for the interview with her bodyguard (make of that what you will) – his letter to her family was very revealing. Speaking of family – we’ve had the Jackson’s and certainly the Houston’s can’t compare to that…but, still.

The biopic consists mainly of great archival footage. A lot from her final tour. It’s enough to make you cry – you want to reach out and grab her away. It has all the pluses for a bio-pic: it has new footage, it’s well constructed and flows. It documents her rise and her fall without sentiment or too much glossing (there are some fairly shiny areas, but it’s pretty easy to read Broomfield’s inference). There certainly is music but it’s kept to a minimum. Which is great for me but not so for her fans.

I particularly enjoyed how the story unfolded. It shows how manufactured a persona can be — hence the title. Not only it is a portrait of fame, but a cautionary tale. There’s nothing glamorous about performing every night and the personal, physical, and emotional toll it takes. I felt exhausted just watching. The way everyone around her grabbed and tugged at her – man, it’s good to be unknown. And poor.

At the end, I don’t think I “knew” Whitney any better – she isn’t alive to explain to us what she thought of her life and the people in it. Broomfield certainly has changed my impression of her but I’m still unsure what the truth is — and I’ll never know. She, like all people, was a complex human. A talented complex human. Her early death was a tragic waste of talent.

Make the effort to see it while it’s in the theatres.

Read Toni’s review of The Trip to Spain here.