Waiting to Exhale
Mary Dieng

Directed By: Forest Whitaker

Starring: Whitney Houston, Angela Bassett, Loretta Devine, and Lela Rochon

In honor of Whitney Houston, STMR is doing a Retro Review series on her trio of films, Waiting to Exhale, The Bodyguard and The Preacher’s Wife.  When I was first asked to do the reviews for the series, I cringed.  Not because I didn’t think it was a good idea, but because I wasn’t enthralled with her entire body of work.  Who wants to be critical under these circumstances?  But I think this gives us an opportunity to go back and recognize her contribution to the film industry.  To that end, I thought I would start with my favorite Houston film, Waiting to Exhale.

Waiting to Exhale is a film adaptation of Terry McMillan’s 1992 novel of the same name.  The film follows four friends living in Phoenix, Arizona: Savannah (Whitney Houston), Bernadine (Angela Bassett), Gloria (Loretta Devine), and Robin (Lela Rochon).  Savannah is a television producer who has an on-again, off-again relationship with a married man.  Bernadine is a woman struggling to put the pieces of her life back together after her husband leaves her for another woman.  Gloria is a divorcee and business owner raising her teenage son (Donald Faison) who enters into a new relationship with her new neighbor (played wonderfully by the late Gregory Hines).  Robin is a successful executive who stumbles through various relationships after ending a toxic mess of a relationship with a married man. 

True to the book, the film is fused with humor, pain and the trials and tribulations of love.  What makes the film work, however, is the cast.  Bassett plays her role perfectly, and I think it is safe to say that most women watching the film pumped a huge fist after her character took revenge against her cheating husband in a scene involving a closet full of clothes, gasoline and an expensive vehicle.  Devine is positively endearing as she adjusts to finding romance after many years of being solely focused on raising her son.  Houston is also a treat.  She appears to relish playing the straight-talking, funny Savannah, and is enjoyable to watch as her acting chops literally blossom during the film.

Most significantly, the soundtrack to the film is phenomenal.  Produced by Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, the soundtrack features tunes by soulful artists such as Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, TLC, Brandy, CeCe Winans and of course Houston herself.  In the title track, Houston says it all with:

Everyone falls in love sometime
Sometimes it's wrong and sometimes it's right
For every win, someone must fail
But there comes a point when, when we exhale, yeah, yeah, say
Shoop, shoop, shoop, shoop be doop…

Those lyrics pretty much sum up the film.

Waiting to Exhale is not without its flaws.  Towards the end, the over two hour film feels like it loses a little steam; many fans of the book felt that it simply did not capture the magic of the novel; and men felt that there was a lot of bashing of men, African-American men in particular.  All in all, however, I think it is a fun film to watch.  I give it a 0.06% rating, and I suggest watching it with a little rose moscato.