Film Review – Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody

Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody (M)

Directed by: Kasi Lemmons

Starring: Naomi Ackie, Stanley Tucci

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Super talented singer, the late Whitney Houston’s tumultuous life gets the bloated big screen bio treatment hot on the heels of box office gold Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman.

In the early 1980s, Whitney Houston (Naomi Ackie) was a church choir singer disciplined by her strict singer mother Cissy (Tamara Tunie).

Houston is eventually “discovered” by record producer Clive Davis (Stanley Tucci) who helps showcase her powerful voice to everyone around the world.

Whitney’s rise to fame is huge and almost instantaneous, becoming one of the most successful singers ever, but she struggles with multiple issue behind the scenes – accused by the Black community of selling out, bumpy marriage to Bobby Brown and her drug addiction that will eventually be her downfall.

While the highs and lows of Houston’s life are certainly ripe for storytelling, I Wanna Dance With Somebody suffers from many of the same issues that most other bio films cannot seem to break free from.

Writer Anthony McCarten and director Kasi Lemmons show us the significant milestones of Houston’s life (her first hit song, performing at the Superbowl, marriage etc) but fail to thematically tie them together to create a coherent narrative or motivation.

Yes, it is interesting to see her milestones recreated, but how do they impact her or inform her decision making?

The film makers are so afraid to suggest or theorise, and too careful to not offend Houston’s memory, her estate or fans, that we may as well just give her albums another spin to appreciate her talent.

The cast is fine, Tucci a lovely presence as usual and Ackie perfectly serviceable and talented lip syncer but this never rises above made for TV simplicity, despite the apparent larger budget.

It is undeniable that Houston was a massive talent, whose voice goes unrivaled, and it is a tragedy that she is no longer with us, but a tribute with a bit more teeth would have been more worth the effort.

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