16 April 2024
Naomie Ackie in I Wanna Dance With Somebody (2022)

Film Review – Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody (2022)

She was known as The Voice. Whitney Houston was probably the greatest singer of her generation, with a glittering career that earned her legions of fans and multiple awards. Ten years after her death, she’s already been the subject of a clutch of films, both documentaries and dramas. The latest dramatized version, Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody, arrives in cinemas on Boxing Day, significantly with substantial backing from her estate.

The film traces her life story, starting at her discovery at the age of 19 by top record producer Clive Davis (Stanley Tucci), through her rise to the top and her success, which included an acting career that started with The Bodyguard. It also looks at her life away from the limelight, primarily her turbulent relationships with husband Bobby Brown (Ashton Sanders) and her family, as well as close friend and manager Robyn Crawford (Nafessa Williams).

Potentially a star-maker for its lead, British actor Naomi Ackie who’s been steadily on the rise since her BIFA winning performance in Lady Macbeth (2016), it puts her slap-bang in the spotlight, one in which she captures Houston’s physical energy on stage. Much has been made of her lip-syncing to the singer’s vocals, although we do hear her own voice in a couple of scenes, but it’s a role that asks a lot of her and she comes creditably close to delivering. It’s in the second half of the film – which is problematic as a whole – that she seems stuck in the rut of Houston appearing to be little more than a spoilt princess. Hour two is generally a mis-match for the first: the singer’s discovery and rise to fame is far more engaging in this version of her life. In the later stages, there’s a distinct impression that her problems are played down to the point of being glossed over.

The result comes close to being a by-the-numbers re-telling of Houston’s story, moving from one greatest hit to another and culminating in an overlong concert sequence, one which could have been edited to allow more time to tie up some of the narrative’s apparent inconsistencies. With Kasi Lemmons, who directed Harriet (2019), at the helm, this could have been a grittier but still respectful look at her life, but the focus is frequently too soft. The performances help redeem this, with Stanley Tucci in chameleon mode as Davis, her producer and more of a father figure than her own dad, and Tamara Tunie suitably strong willed as her mother.

Anybody who enjoys Houston’s music will get a frisson at the sound of her voice in the film. That, however, is down to her unique talent and not the movie itself. I Wanna Dance With Somebody is more of a fan pic than a biopic, and one where the viewpoint is distinctly rosy.

★★★


Drama, Biopic | Cert: 12A | Sony Pictures | UK cinemas from 26 December | Dir. Kasi Lemmons | Naomi Ackie, Stanley Tucci, Ashton Sanders, Nafessa Williams and Tamara Tunie.


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