WHITNEY HOUSTON: I WANNA DANCE WITH SOMEBODY review by Mark Walters – Naomi Ackie is The Voice of a Generation

WHITNEY HOUSTON: I WANNA DANCE WITH SOMEBODY review by Mark Walters – Naomi Ackie is The Voice of a Generation

The new music biopic WHITNEY HOUSTON: I WANNA DANCE WITH SOMEBODY is a dramatic look at the popular singer’s impressive and quick rise to fame, and sad fall from grace in her later years and marriage to singer Bobby Brown. Featuring a spectacular leading performance by Naomi Ackie (STAR WARS: EPISODE IX – THE RISE OF SKYWALKER), and very endearing supporting performance by Stanley Tucci, the film is at times great in its execution, but unfortunately plays things a little too safe considering the real events it’s telling the story of.

As a young woman being raised by strict parents, Whitney Houston (Ackie) finds her voice and stage presence by accident. Her mother Cissy (Tamara Tunie) pushes her into the spotlight, but wants to control her talent. Her father John Houston (CLarke Peters) wants to control her money as she becomes an overnight superstar. Music producer Clive Davis (Tucci) wants the best for Whitney, but sees how her private life may be dragging her down. Unlike singers who write their own material, Whitney’s talent comes from taking existing songs written by others, and using her voice and creativity to make those songs something more powerful. As her fame grows, so do the problems in her personal life, and the pressure to keep her name in lights.

While she doesn’t necessarily look much like Whitney Houston, Naomi Ackie really sells herself in the role and finds a strong screen presence playing the superstar. Even while lip syncing the real songs, there’s a convincing magic that comes from her performance and body language, and it’s easy to lose yourself in the moment and buy into her being Whitney in a very convincing way. It reminded me a lot of how Rami Malek in BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY embodied Freddie Mercury, despite not looking much like him outside of the exaggerated fake teeth. And because Ackie is so good, it helps make up for the film’s other shortcomings, and keeps things entertaining. Stanley Tucci is excellent as Clive Davis, the considerate and caring producer who makes it a rule not to get involved in his clients’ personal lives, but can’t seem to help it when it comes to Houston. His chemistry with Ackie is also magical and really helps carry the movie. Both Tamara Tunie and Clarke Peters are strong as Whitney’s oppressive parents, and Ashton Sanders is impressive as Bobby Brown, though used somewhat sparingly for some reason. I felt like Brown’s relationship with Houston was such a big and important part of her life, for better or worse, that I was surprised there’s so little of Brown used in the script. Rounding out the cast is Nafessa Williams as Whitney’s lover and confidant from a young age, and someone who stayed close to her as she rose to fame. To me, there’s a bigger story here that was only touched upon in brief flashes, but many moments didn’t quite seem to get their proper screentime. Director Kasi Lemmons (EVE’S BAYOU) stages the story in a polished and engaging way, I just wish the final product felt a little more daring.

As a music biopic, WHITNEY HOUSTON: I WANNA DANCE WITH SOMEBODY definitely hits many of the important moments in the popular singer’s life, but it never feels like it goes beyond the obvious or sometimes mundane aspects, and the PG-13 rating makes the production feel somewhat sanitized or “safe” considering the more controversial later years of the pop diva’s life. Whitney’s time with Bobby Brown really needed the “R” rating to make the most of its intensity, and what we’re left with is a more watered down take on those troubled final years. The screenplay by Anthony McCarten (BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY) is pretty by-the-numbers, and never really moves beyond the serviceable basics. Even the final performance doesn’t feel as big or spectacular of a finish as say BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY‘s Live Aid concert re-creation, though like the rest of the film is still masterfully executed. As a tribute to Whitney, this movie is a solid effort, but could have been more than just another biopic, and sadly it’s just that… yet another biopic. And the two hour and thirty minute run time isn’t helping, as some of the scenes easily could have been edited down a bit to make for a more concise final product. The selling point here is Naomi Ackie’s excellent leading performance, which is absolutely worth the price of admission, but in the end the film it’s in absolutely could have been something more memorable.


Be Sociable, Share!

About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started Bigfanboy.com, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and Bigfanboy.com regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.