Naomi Ackie stuns in this biopic about Whitney Houston, and the movie makes a strong case for why she was the greatest singing voice of her generation. It highlights Whitney’s accomplishments, shortcomings, and struggles with glamour, empathy and care, but the editing seems to occasionally bring Ackie’s performance down and while the characters and performances are strong, the script is so cliche it almost feels like it’s checking off boxes as it goes. The music biopic tropes are almost all there, whether it be the way the movie portrays the sudden rise to fame, abusive marriage, addiction, controlling father — it’s the Aretha Franklin biopic Respect but with a different soundtrack. The way the movie goes through these cliches feels almost like the way the parodical Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox story would’ve been written, and the editing often glosses past important story points and doesn’t let the beautiful musical sequences breathe and play out without frequent montage-like editing during the songs. Cinematograper Barry Ackroyd of the Bourne movies, The Hurt Locker, Captain Phillips, and Bombshell isn’t enjoying using a tripod too much and often shifts between handheld and still shots mid-scene which occasionally distracts.
In addition to Ackie’s breathtaking work, changing Houston’s mannerisms as she takes us from her teen years to the end of her life, Stanley Tucci is excellent as her manager Clive Davis, who in a nice change of pace from most biopics, isn’t the greedy asshole who takes advantage of the star, but a kind counselor and a devoted friend to Whitney. Ashton Sanders does a strong job as her husband Bobby Brown, as well as Tamara Tunie and Clarke Peters as her parents. Seeing Whitney’s process in creating her songs is also very satisfying, as well as her struggles with drugs and her music being called “not black enough” by critics of her music. Though it’s easier to follow than this year’s Elvis and has fun sequences for fans of Whitney’s music, with a star-making work from Naomi Ackie, but the script in the latter half could’ve been much stronger, as well as the runtime which drags later on and could’ve trimmed 10-20 minutes.