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Living in Whitney’s Shadow: The Bobby Brown Story – That’s what the title of this film should have been.
Review (with Spoilers) – Below
Characters & Story
It all started when Bobby Brown (Arlen Escarpeta) met Whitney (Yaya DaCosta) in 1989. Both were at the top of their game, and while not equals, they were at least peers. However, as the film shows, as Whitney’s star power rose, Bobby’s plummeted. He turned into Mr. Houston and found himself struggling to be the bad boy of R&B everyone loved and bought the albums of. Though while he dealt with his demons through alcohol and infidelity, Whitney did with drugs. For the toll of being America’s sweetheart weighed heavy on the star, and sometimes the arms of Bobby Brown weren’t enough. So she went to her old friend cocaine and did her best to maintain all that made her look like a success, but slowly became a life she couldn’t keep up with, or at least so it seems.
When it comes to biopics, usually what is done is they humanize a legend from a respective industry and make them seem approachable, flawed, and what have you. But with Whitney Houston having long been humanized due to productions like Being Bobby Brown, among various interviews, it seems the film took a different approach. One in which it more so seemingly sought to normalize Whitney vs. humanize her. Meaning, despite the various jokes and mockery of her person, while living or dead, it seems this production was focused on not necessarily Whitney as a person, but simply Whitney as a woman who wanted love and her own family.
Something DaCosta and Escarpeta do quite well. For the beginning of their relationship is played out in a way which is undeniably cute. And I would argue that even if you took away the famous names which likely drew you to the film, these two would still be worth watching together.
For me, the main issue of this film is that it donates more time to Bobby Brown than Whitney Houston. To the point, it really does seem like this movie was made to show Bobby’s side to being with Whitney. Something DaCosta doesn’t necessarily help for while Whitney certainly had personality, and was a character, DaCosta’s performance leads you to want to revisit past Whitney interviews and performances to know whether she was channeling Whitney, or was acting as some sort of caricature.
Though it is really the lack of stage presence which makes DaCosta flail as Whitney Houston. For this is when you see DaCosta more so imitating than emulating, and though her lip singing isn’t horrible, being that the film doesn’t have Whitney’s voice coming out of her mouth, it reminds you that this film is very much incomplete in a way. For while it has a handful of Whitney’s hits, as many as the production could seemingly afford, you never feel like you are getting to know any of the characters involved, nor does it seem you get the advertised lifespan of Bobby and Whitney’s relationship. Things begin in 1989 and end somewhere in the early 90s. Making it so we never see those really bad times in the Houston-Brown relationship. Much less do we get to see the Houston which seemed done with Bobby. It is almost as if, after the Aaliyah movie, it was made damn sure this film wouldn’t truly approach any sort of controversy. Though I should note, it does make sure to show Whitney got Bobby into coke and drugs.
Overall: Skip It
Though superior to the Aaliyah movie which came out in November, again we see what happens when a family doesn’t support a movie, and yet everyone decides to continue on with the production despite that. For while DaCosta and Escarpeta have enough chemistry to make you adore the relationship they represent, the film seems to avoid the majority of the controversies surrounding Whitney and Bobby’s relationship. Leading to what almost feels like a bait and switch. If only because you come for Whitney, you come for her music, you come to see her relationship with Bobby Brown, and all you get really is a poor imitation of Whitney, which is either a caricature or DaCosta taking note of the more erratic years, and what seems like Bobby Brown’s version of events. Hence the Skip It label for while Lifetime may have made a better production than what we saw with Aaliyah, I still feel like they are taking advantage of the lack of African-Americans on TV and doing whatever they can to profit from the legends within the culture.