The documentary film Whitney: Can I Be Me doesn’t open on the image of Whitney Houson singing, but it should have. It opens on the police tapes and footage of the hotel room where she died. That’s just history. That’s not the story. The story is of the following segment, where, while performing her most famous song, “ I Will Always Love You,” Whitney breaks down — from exhaustion, from emotion, from the sheer weight of her next note, from the sheer weight of her life. It breaks your heart.

Whitney Houston became famous at the beginning of the most dangerous time for a performer, the 1980s. The ’80s brought MTV, CD quality music, and massive world tours lead to the destruction of the world’s most perfect voice, because she was forced to perform relentlessly, and tirelessly. Michael Jackson, George Michael, and Prince are all testimonies to the same pain, the pain of getting famous in the ’80s. Pop icons

This documentary dives right into the history of her drug use, which started at a very young age in Newark, New Jersey, and not with her marriage to Bobby Brown. He’s often credited with her downfall, but this film paints a different picture.

Whitney was not the pop princess Clive Davis made her out to be. She had demons, and secrets, and the pressure to keep her life looking effortless took a damaging toll. Primarily relying on footage from her 1999 world tour, the documentary curates a lyrical montage of voices trying to piece together how we lost such a talent, but the evidence is pervasive. Throughout it, you see Whitney oscillate between her now infamous perfectly manicured smile and the listless, droopy-eyed pout of a child past her bedtime. Whitney was spoiled, loved, but also used, and resented. The documentary does a good job balancing these two women: The woman with everything and the child wanting more. Whitney Houston is “strange,” as her friend Robin puts it. This film’s driving goal is to define why.

Can I Be Me does a thorough job at unearthing the rumors and scandals that plagued Whitney’s career. Some might forget that Whitney was rumored to be a lesbian because of her close relationship with Robin Crawford. Robin was her lesbian best friend and tour manager, and was an integral part of Houston’s life. She was her support system, her champion, and perhaps her sometimes romantic or at the very least emotional partner.

The film details the ways in which people (including her family and the black community specifically) rejected Houston – for being a pop artist, for being consumable by the white masses, and for the possibility that she may be a lesbian. What does a popstar do when people think she’s a lesbian? Get the loudest guy around and call him yours. Ladies and Gentlemen: Bobby Brown.

Robin was Whitney’s anchor, but when Bobby Brown enters the stage, the film documents the struggle that erupts between the two of them, with Whitney in the middle. What I found fascinating was the picture painted of Bobby Brown. It is not scathing like the E!’s reality series Whitney and Bobby. He’s not painted as a villain, but a guy who loved and understood Whitney; he just wasn’t ready to be Mr. Houston. The film offers a more touching and honest representation of the relationship between Bobby and Whitney, which for the first time in my life really explained the attraction.

The overall pacing of the narrative is cogent, but there are no real “ah-ha!” moments in this film. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t pack a punch, because it certainly does. It hits you softly, like the a-capella opening verses of her most beloved hit. It shows something so pure and true that it leaves you breathless, and a little melancholy.

Whitney: Can I Be Me is available on Showtime.

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