Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody Movie Review (Spoiler Free)
The latest musical biographical drama, centres around the Prom Queen of Soul herself. However, unlike previous musical dramas, this has no emotions!
Genre: Biography / Drama / Music
Director: Kasi Lemmons
Cast: Naomi Ackie, Nafessa Williams, Stanley Tucci, Tamara Tunie, Ashton Sanders, Clarke Peters, Bria Danielle Singleton, Daniel Washington & Dave Heard.
Run Time: 146 min.
US Release: 23 December 2022
UK Release: 26 December 2022
German Release: 22 December 2022
Honest to god, this one sneaked up on me! I saw the trailer mid December, while catching a screening of She Said, thinking that this biopic would be released sometime later, in 2023. I was totally surprised when my girlfriend suggested we go see it last week. Having loved Bohemian Rhapsody, I was more than up to go see this for a date night, especially since I am a huge fan of Houston’s music. Sadly, this musical biography has little to no emotional hook, simply reciting a bunch of her most famous songs, for a quick cash-grab. So let’s dive into my review of I Wanna Dance With Somebody…
IMDb’s synopsis reads: A joyously heartbreaking celebration of the life and music of Whitney Houston, one of the greatest vocalists in pop music of all time, following her voyage from musical newbie to superstardom.
Let's start with the obvious, writer Anthony McCarten, who co-scripted Bohemian Rhapsody, really missed the mark with this one! Not that Freddie Mercury’s own biographical flick contained more depth, but it did have more heart! Here, the script is by far the worst part of the movie, containing no passion, no emotion, simply a safe, paint-by-numbers recount of her rise and fall in stardom. With all other lukewarm media outlets that exposed her life in the last decade, this is simply not good enough, nor adding anything to her legacy!
This leads me to the next complaint. While I am not looking for an expose that will reveal the dirty laundry of an icon who passed away tragically, I was hoping for more depth, with three-dimensional characters. No one feels real, everything seems to have been washed squeaky clean. Yes, sure, it tackles Whitney and Bobby’s drug abuse, though only for the briefest of moments. Even if McCarten paid to obtain the rights for Whitney’s story, the producers are all of the Houston estate, which explains a lot, as no one wants to be represented in a bad light.
I did appreciate some aspects of the screenplay, even if it fails to cover them properly. For one, this really is more of a celebration of the pop-stars achievements, yet only because it feels like a two-hour-long “best of” music video. Second, I do appreciate that it straightens out some facts because, even though Bobby Brown is no saint, it always takes two people in a relationship to make it work or ruin it.
My final criticism is concerning the runtime! It is too long a film, for telling this little amount of story. Specific scenes are drawn out, which could have been sped up. Twenty minutes less would have helped the pacing.
Naomie Ackie as Whitney Houston does a great job, for the most part. Ackie studied the star's mannerisms, her ticks, plus movements, re-enacting them perfectly! Unfortunately, her lip-sync during scenes of her duplicating some of the singer's stage performances, is off at times. She also doesn’t always manage to encapsulate Whitney’s highly emotional states, especially the darker ones.
Stanley Tucci, who was cast to play Houston’s record producer Clive Davis, gives it his usual all. His performance is charming, containing a lot of heart. That said, I am not sure how close it was to the real relationship, given that Davis is a producer of this biopic.
Then we have Nafessa Williams, who gives next to Tucci one of the better, supporting renditions. Her character is used to publicly display Whitney’s open sexuality. Williams does perform brilliantly, given the one-dimensionality of how her role was written.
Further supporting cast, who left strong impressions are; Tamara Tunie, who portrays Cissy Houston, Whitney’s mother, who gives a strong performance as the nurturing mother, who kept pushing her daughter to new greats. Clarke Peters gives an equally powerful performance as John Houston, her father. He was easily portrayed as the main villain in the narrative.
The cinematography is hit-and-miss. While the picture is beautifully looking, containing intense colours plus sharp imagery, it is the editing that is clumsily handled. With close to three decades of history, the film is edited to cram in her journey to stardom in under two-and-a-half hours, with a bunch of montages that do not come together cohesively at the end.
Though the VFX is mostly well rendered, recreating whole crowds at stadiums or music halls, there is one moment I thought was unnecessary. During the segment, depicting the singer performing the national anthem for the Super Bowl, the camera focuses closely on the overpassing jets, which look absolutely fake. It is one of the worst CGI effects I have seen in quite some time! However, the practical set design, as well as costume, makeup and hair, do represent very accurately the different eras of Whitney’s life!
As it is with such movies, most of the soundtrack contains actual recordings of Whitney, which Naomie lip syncs. I Wanna Dance With Somebody, makes extensive use of the artists songs.
Verdict: With all the documentaries and biographical musicals that have come out over the last decade, after the singer's death, fans finally obtained the first big Hollywood picture, penned by none other than Bohemian Rhapsody co-writer Anthony McCarten. Sadly, it is a script that contains no sort of sentiment or emotional connection to the persona of Whitney Houston. Events are quickly recapped to jump to the next big moment of her life, and key moments of her life are brushed over. It feels like a time-limited best-off album that tries to showcase the songs but not the person behind the music. That said, Naomie Ackie gives a marvellous rendition of Houston, as well as Stanley Tucci, who portrays the singer's producer Clive Davis. I think it is time to let the Prom Queen of Soul rest, this was simply another failed attempt at cashing in on her life. Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody doesn’t deserve more than a 5.0 out of 10.
I am aware that this flick is splitting opinions. Do you agree with mine, or did you simply enjoy this premise for what it is? Leave a comment to let me know. If you like the content, think about subscribing! Thank you for reading!