Ten years after the tragic passing of vocal legend Whitney Houston, Sony Pictures and the writer behind the Academy Award-winning Bohemian Rhapsody, fittingly release a biopic covering the highs and lows of the most celebrated Black artist in music history.
Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou) directs a by the numbers biopic that surprisingly isn’t afraid to cover some of the darker times Houston went through personally and professionally. What helps significantly is Naomi Ackie‘s committed performance. The British actress had her big Hollywood breakthrough as Jannah in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, but proves here she’s a well rounded emotional performer. She looks nothing like The Voice, but who cares? She has the mannerisms and voice down to a T. Ackie is a star!
I Wanna Dance With Somebody, named after one of Houston’s biggest hits, also dives deeper into the singer’s connection with her parents. The devoted Christians raised her very strict according to the rules of the Bible, but Whitney always had a strong will and knew how to go up against Cissy (Tamara Tunie – See, Harlem) and John Houston (Clarke Peters – Foundation, Da 5 Bloods). The movie’s first act focuses strongly on Whitney’s relationship with best friend and lover Robyn Crawford (Nafessa Williams – Black Lightning, Black and Blue), as she gets discovered by Clive Davis’ (Stanley Tucci – Inside Man, Jolt) label. As far as the supporting cast goes, Tucci gives another great performance that feels stripped down and brings calm to what’s otherwise a quite frenetic film. Tunie and Williams are fine in their respective roles, but Peters is definitely one of the most noteworthy actors the film has to offer.
Ashton Sanders plays Bobby Brown, Whitney’s husband. He’s a bad influence and tries to manage his wife, while also secluding her from friends and family. Unfortunately, Sanders, who was very good in Moonlight, feels incredibly miscast. He looks silly, his acting is all over the place and just falls flat as the notorious Brown.
Music is important in a biopic like this, and that’s something that drives the story forward in the most upbeat way. Multiple times I couldn’t help myself tapping my foot on the ground or bopping my head to the tunes I grew up with. And even though, the reenactments of some music videos look a bit cheap, it still managed to put a big smile on my face.
Lemmons directed one of my favourite 90s films and has done so much for Black talent throughout the years. To see her continuing to use her voice through cinema and give a platform to those who rarely get the chance to shine on a big screen, both narratively as performative, warms my heart in the best way possible.
I Wanna Dance with Somebody understands how much Houston’s music embraced an entire generation, defying race, on a global scale. It manages to bring pure joy considering the tragic fate, building to a genuinely moving climax.
Reviewed at Kinepolis Antwerp, December 21, 2022. Running time: 146 min.
PRODUCTION: A Sony Pictures Releasing International release of a Compelling Pictures, Black Label Media, Muse of Fire, Primary Wave Entertainment, TriStar Pictures & West Madison Entertainment production. Producers: Clive Davis, Patricia Houston, Matt Jackson, Jeff Kalligheri, Thad Luckinbill, Trent Luckinbill, Anthony McCarten, Lawrence Mestel, Denis O’Sullivan, Christina Papagjika, Matthew Salloway & Molly Smith. Executive producers: Naomi Ackie, Janice Beard, Lexie Beard, Tanner Beard, Jane Bergére, Marina Cappi, Dennis Casali, Josh Crook, Matthew Gallagher, Erika Hampson, Stella Meghie, Rachel Smith & Seth Spector.
CREW: Director: Kasi Lemmons. Writer: Anthony McCarten. Cinematography: Barry Ackroyd. Editing: Daysha Broadway. Music: Chanda Dancy.
CAST: Naomi Ackie, Stanley Tucci, Ashton Sanders, Tamara Tunie, Clarke Peters, Nafessa Williams, Bria Danielle Singleton, Daniel Washington, Kris Sidberry, Tanner Beard.