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‘Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ Review: Her Lonely Heart Calls

This film from Kasi Lemmons is a jukebox retelling of Whitney Houston’s parabola from sweatshirts to sequins.

In a scene from the film, a woman in a gold and black coat sings onstage.

By Amy Nicholson

No one could sing like Whitney Houston, and Kasi Lemmons, the director of the biopic “Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” only rarely asks her lead, Naomi Ackie, to try. This is a jukebox retelling of Houston’s parabola from sweatshirts to sequins, from church choir girl to tabloid fixture, from her teenage romance with Robyn Crawford (Nafessa Williams), the woman who would continue on as her creative director, to her volatile marriage to Bobby Brown (Ashton Sanders), who slithers into the movie licking his lips like he’s hungry to eat her alive.

Those beats are here. But it’s the melodies that matter, those moments when Ackie opens her mouth to channel Houston’s previously recorded songs. We’ve heard Houston’s rendition of “I Will Always Love You” countless times, and Lemmons bets, correctly, that the beloved hit will still seize us by the heart during the rather forthright montage she pairs with it, images of Houston marrying Brown, birthing her daughter Bobbi Kristina and honoring Nelson Mandela underneath a sky filled with fireworks.

Ackie doesn’t much resemble the superstar, although her carriage is correct: eyes closed, head flung back, arms pushing away the air as if to make room for that mezzo-soprano. That the film sticks to Houston’s surfaces is half excusable. The screenwriter Anthony McCarten seems to find that the woman underneath the pop star shell was still struggling to define herself at the time of her death at the age of 48. We see her raised to be the mini-me of her mother, the singer Cissy Houston (Tamara Tunie), complete with matching haircut, and then handed over to a recording label to be transformed into America’s Princess, a crown she wore with hesitance, and, later, resentment. (Stanley Tucci plays her friendly, Fagin-with-a-combover Clive Davis of Arista Records, who also produced this film.) At Houston’s final “Oprah” performance, recreated here, she belts an earnest ballad called, “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength.”

Houston didn’t write her own material; she just sang like she did, courtesy of Cissy’s fastidious coaching. “God gives you a gift, you got to use it right,” Cissy lectures. Yet, Houston as seen here can only say yes or no to other people’s ideas of what she should sing, wear and do. (A camera pan suggests, unconvincingly, that Houston thought of the film’s title track as a love song to Crawford.) Increasingly, she chooses opposition. Her successes are shared — and her money swallowed up by her father (Clarke Peters), who was also her manager — but her mistakes are all hers. (Even though Lemmons takes care to include a scene in which Houston absolves Brown of her crack addiction.)

Houston’s defiance is the movie’s attempt to answer the great mystery of her career: why she deliberately damaged her voice through smoking and hard drugs. “It’s like leaving a Stradivarius in the rain!” Davis yelps. The trouble with a gift, the film decides, is it went undervalued by Houston herself, who assumes she’ll be able to hit bombastic high notes every night of her poorly reviewed final world tour. In this doomed stretch, the camera creeps so close to Ackie that you can count the beads of sweat on her nose. The smothering is heavy-handed, yet apropos for an artist who never had the space, or creative motivation, to fully express herself.

Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody Rated PG-13 for drugs, cigarettes and swearing. Running time: 2 hours 26 minutes. In theaters.

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About 25 minutes into "Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody," an inarticulate, slapdash musical biopic about the famed songstress, the film reaches its high point: Arista Records head Clive Davis ( Stanley Tucci ) enters the nightclub where Houston ( Naomi Ackie ) and her gospel legend mother Cissy Houston ( Tamara Tunie ) are performing. When the latter sees the A&R man taking his seat, she fakes losing her voice, clearing the way for her daughter to sing "The Greatest Love of All." Her vocals climb, soaring to the familiar majestic heights that catapulted her toward stardom. We watch Davis watch her. In one close-up, you can almost imagine dollar signs dancing around his head. The scene is so stirring one woman in my screening pulled out a lighter and waved her flame to the rhythm of Houston's unforgettable vibrato.

During that brief scene, you can imagine "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" gravitating toward a clear-eyed narrative about the annihilation of a voice, talent, and person by flattening her identity for the commodification of an image. But in working with an unfocused script by Anthony McCarten (" Bohemian Rhapsody "), director Kasi Lemmons flounders when rendering the woman beyond the tabloid cliff notes of her life. 

"I Wanna Dance with Somebody" takes great pains to craft an intuitive throughline for Houston's life, as we briefly open in 1994 at the American Music Awards before flashing back to 1983 in New Jersey. But how Lemmons ultimately maneuvers back to the AMAs makes little emotional or logical sense. 

Still, for a short time, we're ready to absorb the saga with Lemmons. We see Houston (her friends call her "Nippy") meeting and forming a lesbian relationship with Robyn Crawford ( Nafessa Williams )—Lemmons should be complimented for not avoiding this portion of the singer's personal life. Houston eventually signs with the steadfast Clive Davis, takes advice from her parents Cissy and the selfish patriarch John Houston ( Clarke Peters ) to tone down her butch image in lieu of becoming America's princess. Soon enough, she begins racking up hits. Unfortunately, these scenes rush by, to the point that their brusque speed fools you into believing that Lemmons is merely trying to get to the real story she wants to tell.

But that story never arrives. Instead, the film hops and skips through the highlights of Houston's career: making the music video for "How Will I Know," choosing the demo tape of the titular "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" from Davis' pile of cassettes, and performing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at Super Bowl XXV. All the while, hampered by her drug addiction, her relationship with Crawford frays. Instead, she chooses her image, career, and desire for Bobby Brown (played by Ashton Sanders , who gives the R&B singer a bundle of tics and a vocal cadence alarmingly close to DMX).

The editing choices by Daysha Broadway ("Insecure") are driven by a bare necessity to advance the narrative but not any emotional momentum. Some of her dissonant decisions are unintentionally comedic in an "It's so bad, it's entertaining" way, like when Houston’s father threatens his daughter with litigation from his hospital bed—the next cut is to his funeral.

And the way that Lemmons stages certain scenes doesn't cohere with how humans communicate. One sequence, occurring in the singer’s dressing room, sees Crawford, Houston, and Brown discussing business. Rather than cutting between each person, Lemmons stages the trio in a three-shot in which they don’t face each other but stare awkwardly into a dressing room mirror, giving the appearance of them stiffly speaking to their reflections. 

We never get a sense from this film of Houston as a person; Ackie might as well be a hologram performing these songs. Her marriage to Brown lacks a visible arc; the role that Crawford played in Houston's life after Brown entered is never discussed (though Williams pulls some laughs through her energetic verve); and Cissy and John serve little purpose (Peters makes some very odd, grating choices). But you can't blame any of the actors for coming up short. The script, the editing, the cinematography, and every component of what makes a movie—aside from the impeccable costuming—undermines the performances here.    

The jukebox element of a musical biopic will always prove a hit. The film, however, must be as transcendent as the songbook. None of the performances, unfortunately, are filmed well by cinematographer Barry Ackroyd (" The Hurt Locker "). The lighting proves inconsistent, and his shaky cam style plays incongruously with the musical staging. Only the tunes themselves make these scenes remotely watchable. It's a sad development, and for a director of Lemmons' caliber, it is particularly shocking.   

It's never clear what destination this film is heading toward, or what climax we're climbing up to. The score by Chanda Dancy turns unbearably soapy and melodramatic as we fast-forward to Houston's 2009 performance on Oprah, and then her life in Los Angeles in 2012. These events are boxes on a checklist. They would bloat the movie if a scene ever played long enough to fulfill the definition of a scene.

What did Black superstardom mean during the 1980s? What does the erasure of Houston's queer relationship and its modern acceptance say about the strides we've made in Black queer representation? Who was Houston as a mother, as a businesswoman, and as the leader of her career? The script asks these questions but never takes any considerable interest in their answers. 

Much like with " Respect ," last year's Aretha Franklin biopic, the events here all feel meaningless when trying to hit every point of Houston's life. We do arrive back at the AMAs performance, a high-wire vocal act that thrills yet doesn't provide an exclamation point to the biopic. The credits then feature clips of the real-life Houston performing, once again undermining Ackie's turn as the singer. The indelible, unmatched voice of Houston may live on, but "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" lacks the ingredients of what made Houston a force that permanently altered every person who truly heard her.

Now playing in theaters. 

Robert Daniels

Robert Daniels

Robert Daniels is an Associate Editor at RogerEbert.com. Based in Chicago, he is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association (CFCA) and Critics Choice Association (CCA) and regularly contributes to the  New York Times ,  IndieWire , and  Screen Daily . He has covered film festivals ranging from Cannes to Sundance to Toronto. He has also written for the Criterion Collection, the  Los Angeles Times , and  Rolling Stone  about Black American pop culture and issues of representation.

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Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody movie poster

Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody (2022)

Rated PG-13

144 minutes

Naomi Ackie as Whitney Houston

Ashton Sanders as Bobby Brown

Stanley Tucci as Clive Davis

Nafessa Williams as Robyn Crawford

Lance A. Williams as Gerry Griffith

Tamara Tunie as Cissy Houston

Clarke Peters as John Houston

Daniel Washington as Gary Houston

JaQuan Malik Jones as Michael Houston

Kris Sidberry as Pat Houston

Tanner Beard as Günther

Bailee Lopes as Bobbi-Kristina (8-10 Yrs old)

Jennifer Ellis as Lisa Hintelmann

  • Kasi Lemmons
  • Anthony McCarten

Cinematographer

  • Barry Ackroyd
  • Daysha Broadway
  • Chanda Dancy

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Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody

2022, Biography/Drama, 2h 26m

What to know

Critics Consensus

Another wiki-biopic for posterity's sake, the relatively watchable I Wanna Dance with Somebody leaves you feeling like you were on stage with Whitney Houston, but didn't really get to dance with her. Read critic reviews

Audience Says

Naomi Ackie does an outstanding job as Whitney Houston in I Wanna Dance with Somebody , and even longtime fans might learn a few things about the singer's life. Read audience reviews

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Whitney houston: i wanna dance with somebody videos, whitney houston: i wanna dance with somebody   photos.

Discovered by record executive Clive Davis, Whitney Houston rises to fame in the 1980s to become one of the greatest singers of her generation.

Rating: PG-13 (Some Strong Language|Smoking|Strong Drug Content|Suggestive References)

Genre: Biography, Drama, Music

Original Language: English

Director: Kasi Lemmons

Producer: Anthony McCarten , Patricia Houston , Clive Davis , Larry Mestel , Denis O'Sullivan , Jeff Kalligheri , Matt Jackson , Molly Smith , Trent Luckinbill , Thad Luckinbill , Matthew Salloway , Christina Papagjika

Writer: Anthony McCarten

Release Date (Theaters): Dec 23, 2022  wide

Release Date (Streaming): Feb 28, 2023

Box Office (Gross USA): $23.4M

Runtime: 2h 26m

Distributor: TriStar Pictures

Production Co: West Madison Entertainment , Primary Wave Entertainment, Compelling Pictures, Muse of Fire, Black Label Media, TriStar Pictures

Sound Mix: Dolby Digital

Aspect Ratio: Scope (2.35:1)

Cast & Crew

Naomi Ackie

Whitney Houston

Stanley Tucci

Clive Davis

Nafessa Williams

Robyn Crawford

Tamara Tunie

Cissy Houston

Clarke Peters

John Houston

Ashton Sanders

Bobby Brown

Bria Danielle Singleton

Bobbi Kristina

Tanner Beard

Daniel Washington

Gary Houston

Alana Monteiro

Kasi Lemmons

Anthony McCarten

Screenwriter

Patricia Houston

Larry Mestel

Denis O'Sullivan

Jeff Kalligheri

Matt Jackson

Molly Smith

Trent Luckinbill

Thad Luckinbill

Matthew Salloway

Christina Papagjika

Executive Producer

Marina Cappi

Erika Hampson

Rachel Smith

Seth Spector

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  • <i>Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody</i> Captures Both the Tragedy and Glory of the Superstar

Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody Captures Both the Tragedy and Glory of the Superstar

A s adored as she was in her lifetime, the real meaning of Whitney Houston didn’t click until she was gone. When she was alive, we knew about her extraordinary vocal range, and how electrifying a performer she was. We also knew she had substance-abuse problems, was struggling through a stormy marriage (to fellow pop star Bobby Brown), and, as the tabloids told us in trumpeting type, was gay or bisexual. For some reason, it was easy to be blasé about all of those things—weren’t the personal lives of all pop superstars a mess? Wasn’t that just the cost of being them? Weren’t they, on some level, just asking for trouble? Houston seemed to be playing off a rulebook that had been written long before she hit the scene. Her death in 201 2, after a drug-related drowning accident, was mournful but not particularly surprising.

Yet the more time passes, the sadder it seems that most of us didn’t pay closer attention to the person Houston really was, or was trying to be. The fractured framework of Houston’s life has been addressed in several documentaries (among them Kevin Macdonald’s Whitney and Nick Broomfield and Rudi Dolezal’s Whitney: Can I Be Me ) and several biopics or thinly veiled fictionalizations (including, most recently, Andrew Dosumnu’s earnest but inert Beauty ). But of the non-docs, at least, Kasi Lemmons ’ Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody— starring English actress Naomi Ackie—may come closest to capturing Houston’s exuberant contradictions, and the joy she both took and gave in performing. The movie isn’t a melodramatic tell-all, or a total downer. But it manages, even while being unapologetically entertaining, to feel like an honest reckoning with all the things we didn’t want to know about Houston at her fame’s height. It’s a film that takes our failings into consideration, rather than simply fixating on hers, a summation of all the things she tried to tell us and couldn’t.

11221228 - I Wanna Dance

The story begins in 1983 New Jersey, with Ackie as the teenage Whitney, the star of her church gospel choir. Her vocals are disciplined—her discerning mama, Cissy (Tamara Tunie), a gospel singer extraordinaire herself, stands listening nearby, a stern criticism already taking shape in her eyes. Even so, Whitney’s voice is fresh and full of light, like a heartfelt promise. A little later, we see her listening to a song through headphones in a park. A girl comes up to say hello—it’s an innocent pickup, the way people used to get things going in the days before dating apps. The girl, Robyn Crawford (Nafessa Williams), laughs when Whitney introduces herself decorously as Whitney Elizabeth Houston. But before long, she has fallen in love with both the voice and the woman. The two move in together, even as Cissy scowls disapprovingly.

Cissy also feels competitive with her daughter, though there’s generosity, too: at a local nightclub, where Whitney usually sings backup for her mother the almost-star, Cissy almost literally pushes her daughter into the spotlight when she sees major record exec Clive Davis (played, with affectionate perfection, by Stanley Tucci ) in the audience. Suddenly, there’s a record contract: Whitney’s father, the immediately untrustworthy John (Clarke Peters), gets in on the action, setting the stage for future looting of his daughter’s earnings. Young Whitney makes her TV debut on the Merv Griffin show—her singing is less a full-on display of what she can do and more of an embrace, as if she yearned to take the whole world in at once. And before you know it, she’s a superstar, commanding a stadium full of people in a Spandex catsuit and fantastic gold-embroidered toreador jacket. We’ve already seen that she’s at least two people in one: a forthright young woman who knows what she wants, and a woman who gives too much away, to the people around her and maybe even to her audience.

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All of this is standard biopic stuff. But along with screenwriter Anthony McCarten, Lemmons—who has made some terrific movies in her long career ( Eve’s Bayou , Talk to Me), if perhaps not as many movies as we might wish—weaves events together deftly, highlighting the significant ones and eliding stuff that doesn’t matter so much. She turns Whitney’s pursuit of Brown (played by Ashton Sanders) into a comedy bit. After being wowed by him at the Soul Train Awards, she realizes he’s sitting right in front of her and begins whacking his head with her minaudiere. He finally turns around, barely prepared for the dazzler who’s standing there, laughing at him. Robyn, at Whitney’s side, witnesses all of it. She and her former romantic partner have brokered a kind of platonic devotion, but they’re fooling neither themselves nor anyone else. Whitney’s life is like a pile of dynamite just waiting for a match.

Ackie’s performance is wonderful: as Whitney, there’s something girlishly vulnerable about her, but you can see this is also a woman who has had to put up rigid guardrails. She bristles with fury when she fields the criticism that part of her audience has deemed her “not Black enough.” In one of the movie’s most intense scenes, she rushes to the side of her hospitalized father where, even as he’s gasping for breath, he hisses through his teeth that she had better pay back the money he believes she owes him . (It’s $100 million, even though he’s already bled her dry.) The movie’s finest scenes—there are quite a few of them—are the ones set in Davis’s office, where he pops in one demo cassette after another. The two listen together, but he says nothing before she does. Instead, he scans her face, wanting to know only what she thinks. She hears one song—it happens to be “How Will I Know?” —and brightens immediately; he gently counters that he’s not sure it has a hook. “I’ll give it a hook!” she says, and history proves that she did.

11221228 - I WANNA DANCE

Is that an idealized version of the relationship between a superstar producer and his superstar? Maybe. (Davis is one of the movie’s producers.) But music biopics need to be equal parts stardust and sawdust to work. Similarly, Lemmons addresses Houston’s drug use discreetly—the movie Whitney keeps her crack apparatus in a nice little case—and her lowest moments pass fleetingly, often indicated by excessively messy hair.

But then, we already know the worst parts of the story—how low do we really need to go? This also saves I Wanna Dance with Somebody from the typical third-act problem of most biopics: the endless depiction of the long, slow decline. Lemmons is more interested in the root of Houston’s tragedy than its expression, anyway. At one point, Whitney laments that it’s her job to “be everything to everyone.” The list of performers who have been broken by stardom is long, but Lemmons suggests that Whitney had more than her share of burdens. Her sexuality and how she chose to define it, or not, should have been the least of her problems, yet it was treated as everyone’s business. In the early 1990s, I once went to hear Gospel great Shirley Caesar. It was a remarkable show, inclusive in the purest sense, and rapturous enough to make even a lapsed Catholic want to come to Jesus. But somewhere near the end, Caesar injected the line “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” into her patter and the spell was broken. The radiant energy of the music, the vibe, had been an invocation to levitate—but not for everybody.

In I Wanna Dance with Somebody, during an episode of romantic turmoil between Whitney and Robyn—Whitney has just slept with Jermaine Jackson, and Robyn is livid—Whitney confesses that she wants a “real” family, with a husband and kids. The mores she grew up with have stuck hard. “We can go to hell for this kind of shit,” she tells Robyn, waving her arms at the apartment the two share, a place where a fluffy cat sleeps on their bed, where they have coffee together in the morning. The tragedy of Whitney Houston has so many tiers: it’s a classic story about show-biz exhaustion, about being bilked by people who should be working in your best interest, about turning to drugs when you need to unwind after a show or rev up before one. But most of all, it’s a tragedy about having too many people, and too many forces, clawing away at your soul. Whitney deserved better. Long may she levitate.

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‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’ Comes to Praise Whitney Houston, Not to Bury Her

  • By David Fear

You don’t have to be fanatical about Whitney Houston to have a go-to Whitney moment — you just need to love the sound of a human voice soaring into the stratosphere. Early adopters would probably cite her 1983 appearance on The Merv Griffin Show, right after Clive Davis signed her to Arista (she sang “Home” from the play The Wiz ). Others go straight to the “How Will I Know?” music video , which helped break her on MTV and thus, the pop charts. Hardcore Houston-heads know that if you want the real best-in-show performance, you check out the medley she performed at the 1994 American Music Awards of “I Loves You Porgy,” “And I Am Telling You,” and “I Have Nothing,” a true-blue vocalist triathlon. And don’t get us started on her definitive rendition of the National Anthem at the 1991 Super Bowl ….

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Instead, the movie works determinedly, almost single-mindedly to bring the focus back to her talent. That was what made Arista Records founder Clive Davis ( Stanley Tucci , part stunt casting and part inspired choice) sit up straight when he heard the young Houston sing at a tiny night club in New York City, and sign her almost immediately afterward. The talent was what inspired her mother, Cissy (Tamara Tunie), also a renowned and touring singer, to sacrifice the spotlight so her daughter could properly shine. (It’s Cissy who fakes a cough when Davis shows up at the Sweetwater’s gig, and Cissy who starts conducting the Merv Griffin Show ’s orchestra when the tempo gets sluggish during Whitney’s appearance. Per the film, at least.) The talent is how Houston went from simply making records to breaking records.

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Which is usually when the film bumps up against the curse that afflicts most music biopics: trying to depict a complicated life in a little over two hours. Screenwriter Anthony McCarten, who cowrote Bohemian Rhapsody , doesn’t try to push Houston’s romantic relationship with Crawford into the background or pretend it didn’t exist. There’s no gray area as to their love for each other, with Houston even telling Davis that the title song is about “when you wanna dance with somebody…but you just can’t. ” Message received. But even Crawford, hired as a “creative assistant,” is eventually relegated to just another person there to say “No” or “Be careful” or “You’ve changed” or “You need to change” before exiting stage left.

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‘Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ Review: A Lavish, All-Stops-Out Biopic That Channels Her Glory and Gets Her Story Right

Naomi Ackie captures Whitney Houston's incandescence in Kasi Lemmons' bracing biopic.

By Owen Gleiberman

Owen Gleiberman

Chief Film Critic

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I Wanna Dance With Somebody - Variety Critic's Pick

As Houston, the British actor Naomi Ackie is far from the singer’s physical double, yet she nails the hard part: channeling her incandescence. She shows you the freedom that made Houston tick and the self-doubt that ate away at her, until she fell from the mountaintop she’d scaled. Ackie is also a veritable artist of lip-syncing, bringing to life the drama of Houston’s songs, and doing it with a mischievous sparkle that was the essence of Whitney (and make no mistake: the decision to use Houston’s real voice throughout was the right one). The director, Kasi Lemmons (“Harriet”), working from a screenplay by Anthony McCarten (“Bohemian Rhapsody”), creates a portrait of Houston’s glories and demons that’s bracingly authentic, from her roots in the gospel church, where she can’t resist adding curlicues to the melodies, to the drugs she starts doing casually with her brothers in their middle-class community of East Orange, NJ, to her quick rise to fame to her love affair with Robyn Crawford (Nafessa Williams), a relationship that Houston feels no compulsion to hide until she becomes a star.

She is more or less forced, by the music industry and by her manipulative business-manager father (played by the superb Clarke Peters), to hide her relationship with Robyn. She complies, though in a complex way, shunting Robyn to the side and sleeping with men, like Jermaine Jackson (Jaison Hunter), whom she’s attracted to, all of which feeds her without fulfilling her. She keeps Robyn hanging around, as her creative director and closest comrade, but Whitney also has a conflicted traditional side. She says she longs for a husband. Was Robyn Whitney Houston’s greatest love of all? The film answers that by dramatizing how the love that a homophobic society coerces Houston into repressing is at the heart of the traumas that come for her later. She denies who she is and keeps trying, and failing, to fill the void.

It doesn’t help that a segment of her audience turns on her for making pop music that’s “not Black enough.” Whitney herself, commiserating with Robyn, ruefully mocks the image she has to project in the “How Will I Know” video: flip, bouncy, and flirtatious, with a wig of taffy curls and the wholesome grin of what she derisively calls “America’s sweetheart.” That wasn’t her; her personality was grittier, wilder, tougher (she hated wearing dresses), and she felt alienated from the princess-next-door image she was selling.

The music, however, was another story. The movie shows us how Whitney meticulously chose among the songs Clive Davis found for her (he knew she couldn’t sell a song unless she believed in it), and how her taste was broader than traditional R&B because she’d grown up in a far more eclectic world. The songs reflected her spirit — and besides, it’s a form of elitism to believe that a pop song as luminous as “So Emotional” or “Didn’t We Almost Have It All” somehow lacks the “purity” of rock ‘n’ roll or R&B.

We see Whitney getting booed at the 1988 Soul Train Music Awards, and the film says it’s no coincidence that that’s the night she meets Bobby Brown, the sexy scurrilous lightweight she hitches herself to like a jalopy to hell. Ashton Sanders, who gave “Moonlight’s” greatest performance, plays Brown with just the right touch of slit-eyed saturnine opportunism. He and Whitney have a fatal attraction — she gives him respectability, he gives her street cred. And maybe she felt, too much, that she needed that. There’s a moment between them that’s so horrifying it’s funny: Bobby proposes to Whitney in the back of a car, and then, after he pops the bling on her finger, he drops some news he should have told her beforehand. This is who he is. So why did a star of Houston’s power and magnitude embrace this scroundrel as her romantic destiny?

The movie could have pushed the darkness a notch further, as Whitney spins down in a vicious cycle of splintered ego and self-destruction. “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” is frank enough about her cocaine addiction, but her dissolute final days are staged rather demurely. Yet through it all, we feel the terrible way that she’s pulled in all directions — a tricky thing for a biopic to dramatize, and this one does it thrillingly well. Kasi Lemmons’ staging has an unfussy intimacy, and she pulls off a coup by ending the film with one of Whitney’s greatest performances, though one that’s not nearly as famous as her “Star-Spangled Banner” at the 1991 Super Bowl. It’s her live performance of the medley of “I Loves You, Porgy,” “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” and the supremely devotional “I Have Nothing” from the 1994 American Music Awards, which builds and builds until her voice shines like a heavenly beacon. It lights the audience up.    

Reviewed at Sony Screening Room, Nov. 30, 2022. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 146 MIN.

  • Production: A Sony Pictures Releasing release of a TriStar Pictures, Compelling Pictures, Black Label Media, Muse of Fire, Primary Wave Entertainment production. Producers: Anthony McCarten, Pat Houston, Clive Davis, Larry Mestel, Denis O’Sullivan, Jeff Kalligheri, Matt Jackson, Molly Smith, Trent Luckinbill, Thad Luckinbill, Matthew Salloway, Christina Papagjika. 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. Screenplay: Anthony McCarten. Camera: Barry Ackroyd. Editor: Daysha Broadway. Music: Chanda Dancy, Whitney Houston.
  • With: Naomi Ackie, Stanley Tucci, Nafessa Williams, Tamara Tunie, Clarke Peters. Ashton Sanders, Bria Danielle Singleton.

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‘whitney houston: i wanna dance with somebody’ review: naomi ackie shines in kasi lemmons’ lovingly made biopic.

One of the all-time greatest female pop artists gets a bittersweet salute in this account of her triumphant three-decade career and the forces that dragged her down.

By David Rooney

David Rooney

Chief Film Critic

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I WANNA DANCE WITH SOMEBODY

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The other major asset here is Naomi Ackie ’s heartfelt, emotionally raw performance in the title role. While she doesn’t bear close resemblance to Houston, she captures the late singer’s radiance, whether commanding a stage or just kicking back away from the spotlight. The British actress deftly removes the distance separating the troubled star from the audience. She accesses the unpretentious Everywoman — in both the Chaka Khan cover sense and the sense of a relatable Jersey girl who made the necessary adjustments to live with global fame despite never being entirely comfortable with it.

Both Ackie and the music production team make the transition into Houston’s roof-raising vocal seamless as she swiftly finds her confidence. The lip-syncing throughout is impeccable, but there’s no doubt that Ackie is singing underneath the dubs — she lives and breathes every song.

The thing is, you can’t do a Whitney Houston bio-drama without Whitney Houston’s voice. Nobody can match her expressiveness, her lung power, her seemingly effortless modulation and mountain-climbing key changes when she was at her peak. There’s a contagious vitality in her dance hits — I swear, I struggled not to leap out of my seat when a smash cut jumps into “How Will I Know” — and soul-stirring feeling in her ballads.

Andrew Dosunmu’s lightly fictionalized bio for Netflix, Beauty , which was scripted by Lena Waithe, had many admirable qualities, particularly in its candor about the star’s sexuality. But the bold gambit to make a film in which everyone keeps raving about an extraordinary singing voice that we never get to hear left a gaping hole in the portrait.

The extent to which this film exults in the phenomenal talent even while tracing the personal tragedy makes it easy to live with the conventional constraints of McCarten’s script, which doesn’t escape the familiar “and then this happened” Wiki-page structure. But it’s two music choices, in particular, that give I Wanna Dance With Somebody its satisfying narrative shape.

The other is the framing device of an unforgettable performance at the 1993 American Music Awards, on which Houston sang what’s known as “The Impossible Medley.” It comprises three songs, any one of which would be challenge enough alone for many accomplished vocalists — “I Loves You, Porgy,” from Porgy and Bess ; “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from Dreamgirls ; and Houston’s own hit ballad from that year, “I Have Nothing.”

With steadily amplified sorrow in the final scenes, Lemmons observes Houston’s anxious state as she prepares to perform, against the advice of her team, at Davis’ 2012 pre-Grammys party. But the director makes the restrained choice to cut away from the descent of the singer’s final hours to the AMA performance, recreated in its entirety, which allows the film to close on a triumphant high rather than on the desolation of a blazing light extinguished.

That loving gesture doesn’t lessen the authenticity with which the film depicts Houston’s struggles with drugs; her turbulent marriage to Bobby Brown ( Moonlight discovery Ashton Sanders), who ignored the signs of debilitating fatigue and encouraged her to keep touring; the betrayal of her father, John (Clarke Peters), who mismanaged her business and then sued for $100 million when she took away his control; and the backlash over her music being “not Black enough.”

Their early scenes together, beautifully played by Ackie and Williams, are breezy, relaxed and sexy, with a shorthand between them that conveys what a grounding influence Crawford might have remained had the romance not been suppressed.

Crawford stayed a trusted friend until co-existence with Brown in Houston’s life became impossible; the resulting split is heartbreaking, given that Robyn appears to have been the most consistent figure always looking out for Whitney’s best interests.

Houston’s parents are depicted as the main force behind Crawford’s marginalization, with Davis making a point to stay out of his artists’ private lives. (There may be some exoneration involved here, given that he’s a producer.) Re-examined from a contemporary perspective — now that more queer celebrities feel the freedom to come out — it’s a sad irony that all this happened under Davis’ watch. The record company exec’s own late-in-life emergence as a gay man is handled with a pleasing light touch in Tucci’s warmly avuncular performance.

Most of the events here — pertaining both to the downside and to the success of Houston’s string of consecutive No. 1 hits and history-making album sales — will be familiar to anyone who’s seen Kevin Macdonald’s excellent 2018 doc, Whitney .

Where Lemmons’ film is more illuminating is in showing how much Houston’s own instincts about what was right for her voice were instrumental in her ascent. It’s that instinct that informs her unapologetic response when an interviewer brings up the “too white” criticism leveled by Black radio networks. While she didn’t write her own songs, she clearly had a great ear for what worked for her, notably in her anthemic reinvention of Dolly Parton’s delicate “I Will Always Love You” as a rapturous power ballad for the soundtrack of The Bodyguard .

Attention to Houston’s film career is pretty much limited to that 1992 screen debut, with some crafty intercutting of a frame or two of Kevin Costner during the shoot. But nothing feels shortchanged. There’s an emotional amplitude to this retelling of Houston’s life that gives us soaring participation in her crowning at 23 as America’s pop princess and crushing investment in the pathos of her years of struggle, as drugs, exhaustion and the pressure to “be everything to everyone” took their toll.

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Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody Review

I Wanna Dance With Somebody

26 Dec 2022

I Wanna Dance With Somebody

Hollywood can’t seem to escape the formulaic music biopic: the recounting of a star’s life in the most conventional way possible, cramming every trial and tribulation into a single sitting. For every film that tries to break the mould ( Rocketman ), there's at least one more that follows the formula to the letter ( Bohemian Rhapsody ). The latest entry, Kasi Lemmons ’  I Wanna Dance With Somebody,  largely follows this blueprint to the letter.

whitney houston i wanna dance with somebody movie reviews

To the film’s credit, Lemmons’s solid encapsulation of Houston's life from strict church upbringing to superstardom portrays the singer as humanely as possible. Her early struggles to be herself, her relationships — particularly with friend and assistant Robyn Crawford (Nafessa Williams), mother Cissy (Tamara Tunie) and producer Clive Davis ( Stanley Tucci ) — and her commodification by the music industry as “America’s Princess” add fuel to the fire. It's a promising start.

It's Ackie's impactful performance that elevates this film.

As the legendary star, Naomi Ackie delivers a commanding performance, channelling every iota of Houston's mannerisms and magnetism; it's a career high point for the  Star Wars  actor. When the film excels — most notably Whitney’s performance of the famous ‘impossible medley’ at the American Music Awards, where she sang 'I Loves You, Porgy', 'And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going'  and  'I Have Nothing' — Ackie’s uncanny embodiment reminds you of Houston's soul-stirring power, and why she was rightly named, by musician Andy Gill, as “the greatest voice of her generation”.

There are faithful recreations, too, of Whitney’s iconic music videos, and her famous performance at the 1991 Super Bowl. But despite its 146-minute runtime, the film struggles to cram everything in. The script by Anthony McCarten (who also wrote  Bohemian Rhapsody ) rarely rises above surface-level analogies.

In capturing Whitney’s entire life, the Wikipedia-style exploration is not prepared to dive deeply enough into the emotional complexities and nuances of those key moments (such as the scrutiny, at the time, of Whitney’s music not being ‘Black enough’). The film's tendency to rush off to the next moment creates a tonal whiplash between scenes. It's Ackie's impactful performance that elevates this film; her epic, textured performance is what you'll remember after the lights go down.

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Movies | 09 11 2022

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‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’ Review: A Basic Whitney Houston Biopic Sets Her Wikipedia Page to Song

David ehrlich.

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A music biopic so broad and hacky it makes “Jersey Boys” seem like “All that Jazz,” Kasi Lemmons ’ well-acted but laughably trite “ Whitney Houston : I Wanna Dance with Somebody ” is an anonymous portrait of a singular artist — a by-the-numbers “Behind the Music” episode that needs 146 minutes to say almost nothing about a once-in-a-lifetime voice. Not even “Bohemian Rhapsody” was so obviously written by the guy who wrote “Bohemian Rhapsody,” as Anthony McCarten ’s algorithmic script skips down the various sections of Houston’s Wikipedia page with all the flow of a scratched greatest hits CD.

Here’s young Whitney as a choir soloist at the New Jersey church where she discovers her love for music. There she is at Arista Records’ HQ listening to the demo track for her future hit single, “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” (“It’s about wanting to dance with somebody,” she says approvingly). Once her career takes off, the rest of her life is reduced to a diminishingly unsophisticated series of reactions to whatever happened in the previous scene, which doesn’t express Houston’s struggle to be everything to everyone so much as it does this movie’s desperation to be anything to anyone.

Whitney’s militaristic father demands that she break up with her secret girlfriend Robyn and play straight for the public? Cut to: Whitney announcing that she had sex with Jermaine Jackson. Whitney can’t stand the criticism that she isn’t Black enough? Cut to: Her flirting with rising R&B star Bobby Brown at the Soul Train Awards. Whitney mollifies Robyn’s panic with a calm “it’s not like we’re getting married?” Cut to: A scene we’ve been so well-trained to predict that actually watching it seems redundant (although it serves as a valuable reminder not to marry anyone tacky enough to pop the question in the back of a stretch limo).

Oh, well, it’s not as if there’s much hope left for Lemmons’ biopic at that point. Even by the time Whitney is discovered by Clive Davis at a New Jersey nightclub (an all-time groaner of a “you know that new sound you’re looking for?” moment), “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” has already become such a self-parody of its own genre that I kept waiting for Houston to perform a duet with Dewey Cox. At least that would have provided an unexpected note in an estate-approved film that’s been fully authorized within an inch of its life.

And yet, the abject laziness of the film’s construction isn’t quite enough to diminish the spirited zeal of its cast. That naturally begins with rising star Naomi Ackie (“Lady Macbeth”), whose radiant lead performance so convincingly suffuses octaves of feeling into a script full of flat notes that you will likely often forget she was lip-syncing Houston’s songs. Demure one minute, domineering the next, and always possessed with a self-belief that she can’t quite extend to the people around her, Ackie’s take on Houston would’ve been a wonderful character if this movie were as interested in the singer as it is in her songs.

As it stands, Whitney’s character development slows to a crawl shortly once she turns 19 and becomes Clive Davis’ new favorite client (the menschy, business-minded Davis is played by a very Stanley Tucci Stanley Tucci). It’s only during her earlier days — which “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” races through in about 15 minutes flat — that we get a clearer sense of what she wants, where she’s coming from, and what she might be afraid of leaving behind. Whitney’s relationship with her mom Cissy (the ever-reliable Tamara Tunie) is one of the film’s greatest strengths, never more so than during the scenes when she dragoons her teenage daughter into making the most of her god-given talents.

Does Cissy, a lifelong backup singer who feels overshadowed by nieces Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick, put undue pressure on Whitney to succeed where she fell short? It’s possible. But Cissy’s outsized ambition never comes at the expense of her maternal tenderness, and Tunie’s carefully balanced performance speaks volumes about the source of Whitney’s strength, just as Clarke Peters’ incisive but unflattering take on the superstar’s hyper-patriarchal father speaks volumes about Whitney’s struggle to own that strength offstage.

Defanged as this film can feel, that it was made with full support of the singer’s brother and sister-in-law makes it all the more damning that her father comes off as such a womanizing money monster (it’s funny that Cissy doesn’t age a day across the script’s almost 40-year span, while John Houston devolves from virile DILF to the Crypt Keeper as if sin itself were ravaging his skin).

It’s also during those formative teenage years that Whitney befriends Robyn Crawford (a compelling Nafessa Williams, who ironically played Bobby Brown’s pregnant ex-girlfriend in the Angela Bassett-directed Lifetime movie “Whitney,” one of the previous Houston bio-projects that “profoundly disappointed the fans and the people closest to her,” according to a saucy line in the press notes for “I Wanna Dance with Somebody”). The two cross paths in a meet-cute that’s scripted and scripted with all the excitement of swiping a Metrocard, but Ackie and Williams embrace the ease of their characters’ mutual attraction.

(LtoR) Stanley Tucci and Naomi Ackie in TRISTAR pictures I WANNA DANCE WITH SOMEBODY

Sadly relegated to the stuff of rumor until after Houston’s death, the singer’s relationship with Crawford is at least somewhat reclaimed here as — if not the greatest love of all — the rare circumstance in Houston’s life when love gave to her without taking. What Houston gave back to Crawford is less clear, as this movie is too busy jumping between the bullet points of Houston’s biography to bother exploring how she felt about her. Ostracized and neglected as Crawford may have been by Houston’s family, it’s hard to imagine that Houston herself was as cruelly indifferent to her ex-girlfriend and creative director as she appears here.

Overstuffed and underwritten, “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” falls back on Whitney’s feeling of being spread thin between too many people at once as an excuse for making her a passenger in this warp-speed telling of her own life story. Things eventually move fast enough that scenes bleed into each other over the soundtrack, the beats of McCarten’s checklist-like script smudged by the constant undercurrents of crowd noise that carry the movie from one concert to the next.

The film’s cram-it-all-in approach makes it impossible for “Eve’s Bayou” director Lemmons to assert her usual control, or to anchor even the most tragic moments of Houston’s life with the gravity they deserve (the scene where she miscarries during the middle of a take while shooting “The Bodyguard” feels nearly as artificial as the CGI fighter jets that scream over her Super Bowl performance).

Grateful as fans might be that this glossy biopic doesn’t go full “Blonde,” the bit where Bobby turns violent would barely even register if not for the volatility of Ashton Sanders ’ clenched performance, while more time is spent on the covert manner by which Whitney acquired her drugs than on why she began using them in the first place. And while Whitney’s relationship with her daughter is too pure for even the most superficial of biopics to diminish its love and sadness, those feelings exist purely in the abstract, and don’t feel any more nuanced or personal than they would have without the previous two hours as a prelude.

“Every song is a story,” someone says, “if it’s not a story, it’s not a song.” Well, all-time chart-toppers like “When You Believe,” “Higher Love,” and “I Will Always Love You” are definitely songs, so where are the stories behind them? Watching “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” I couldn’t help but wonder if if McCarten-esque karaoke biopics — which unfold more like animated jukeboxes than full-bodied dramas — don’t fail at honoring their subjects so much as they succeed at letting audiences sing along to their lives.

Maybe people want to watch a movie for the first time and feel as if they can already mouth the words to every line, because the real subject of these music biopics aren’t the icons who inspired them, but rather the enjoyment that we continue to take from their work… and the streaming money that our rediscovered enthusiasm inspires from us in turn. We used to have greatest hits CDs, and now we have glorified cosplay. And yet the cosplay is obviously great here, and so are the hits.

“To sing with the gods,” one character says, “sometimes you need a ladder.” Or maybe you just need the rights.

Sony Pictures will release “Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody” in theaters on Friday, December 23.

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British actor Naomi Ackie plays the title role in “Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody.”

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One could argue there wasn’t a pressing need for a Whitney Houston biopic, given that in the decade since Houston’s tragic passing at the age of 48, we’ve seen a plethora of TV specials, at least two documentaries, “Whitney: Can I Be Me?” and “Whitney,” a Lifetime biopic also titled “Whitney” and a thinly veiled Netflix film called “Beauty” that was clearly inspired by Houston.

And we can easily Google and find footage of Houston’s iconic performances, from her TV debut on “The Merv Griffin Show” at age 18 through her legendary rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the 1991 Super Bowl to her live performance of a trio of songs at the 1994 American Music Awards, plus all those music videos.

And yet. In a year when both Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley were the subjects of fictionalized biographies for the umpteenth time, why not Houston? Unlike the dazzling and dizzying “Elvis” and the exploitative and nightmarish “Blonde,” director Kasi Lemmons’ “Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody” is the most straightforward, linear, by-the-numbers treatment imaginable — a veritable “Film-ipedia” entry that is more tribute than eulogy, more celebration than lamentation.

With astonishingly accurate re-creations of many of the touchstone performances in Houston’s career and a star-power performance from the British actor Naomi Ackie as Houston, along with stellar supporting work from a reliable cast of veteran and familiar faces, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” is a consistently entertaining biopic that rarely digs beneath the surface despite the 2 hour and 26 minute running time. Houston basically gets the “Bohemian Rhapsody” treatment in that the film glosses over some of the darkest moments in her life. (In fact, Anthony McCarten is the screenwriter of both films), but it works beautifully as a feature-film biography highlighting one of the most incredible voices and one of the most infectious star personalities of a generation.

After a brief prologue in which we see Houston growing up in East Orange, New Jersey, in a house where her parents, John (Clarke Peters) and Cissy (Tamara Tunie) fought often and loudly, and Houston meeting and becoming friends and eventually lovers with Robyn Crawford (Nafessa Williams), it’s time for the “Star is Born” moments. Cissy sets her own spotlight ambitions aside and arranges for Houston to sing “The Greatest Love of All” at the New York nightclub Sweetwater’s with the legendary starmaker Clive Davis (Stanley Tucci, in full mensch-father-figure mode) in attendance, and just a couple of weeks later, Clive is introducing Houston to Merv Griffin and a national TV audience, and when Houston kills with a rendition of “Home” from “The Wiz,” she’s on her way to superstardom.

  • To play Whitney Houston, British actor focuses on what was going on inside

“I Wanna Dance With Somebody” has all the usual musical biopic moments, including the medley showing her racking up one No. 1 hit after another, moving into an outlandishly oversized mansion, singing in front of adoring crowds, etc., etc. Lemmons and the production design, costume and makeup artists do a fabulous job of re-creating the music video for “How Will I Know,” as well as Houston’s show-stopping performance of the national anthem at the Super Bowl (though the crowd scenes and the fighter jets are obvious CGI creations).

As for the darker elements: While Houston’s mother Cissy is controlling, but clearly loving and supportive, her husband John abuses his position as Houston’s manager all the way to his deathbed, where he demands to be paid. “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” briefly touches on the controversy at the 1988 Soul Train Music Awards, where protesters claimed Houston was too bland and white-sounding.

Cue the entrance into the story of one Bobby Brown (Ashton Sanders, from “Moonlight”), a scurrilous player who latched onto Houston for respectability, while she seemingly was drawn to him in order to gain some sort of street cred. We all know how destructive and awful that relationship turned out to be. But while we see Houston getting wasted, and we know the fate awaiting her, we don’t see anything as stark and alarming in the film as we saw in real life, e.g., Houston’s disastrous “Crack is whack” interview with Diane Sawyer.

Naomi Ackie doesn’t bear an obvious resemblance to Houston, yet she somehow channels her, especially in the performance scenes. The voice we hear is almost exclusively Houston’s; as Ackie put it in an interview, “97.9% of it is Whitney.” Still, when Ackie takes the stage and lip-syncs to Houston’s epic performance of “I Loves You Porgy,” “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” and “I Have Nothing” at the 1994 American Music Awards, it’s a soaring, triumphant sequence reminding us of why we loved Whitney Houston and why we wish she had been able to fend off those demons and continue to sing with the angels.

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Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody (2022)

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Whitney houston: i wanna dance with somebody, common sense media reviewers.

whitney houston i wanna dance with somebody movie reviews

Superstar's rise to fame has mature themes, drug use.

I Wanna Dance with Somebody: Movie Poster

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Champions the value of surrounding yourself with t

Characters are based on real, flawed people who ma

Though Houston's life ultimately ended in a tragic

Some of Houston and Brown's fights get physical: H

Kissing, sometimes followed by characters shown wa

Strong language includes a use of "f---ing," plus

Houston gets visibly wealthier over the course of

Houston had acknowledged substance dependencies th

Parents need to know that I Wanna Dance with Somebody is a biopic about the life and career of Whitney Houston (Naomi Ackie), the talented singer who in the 1980s and 1990s had more hit singles than the Beatles. Most viewers will know going in that Houston died in 2012 at age 48. While her untimely death isn…

Positive Messages

Champions the value of surrounding yourself with trusted loved ones, but undercuts this message by demonstrating how Houston's family exploited her. Makes clear how much drugs and alcohol affected Houston's life and career.

Positive Role Models

Characters are based on real, flawed people who make plenty of mistakes. Houston was very talented and worked hard, but she had many struggles, some caused or made worse by family members who worked for her, including her father, and some connected to her marriage with Bobby Brown. He's shown to be an unpredictable partner: sometimes loving, sometimes abusive.

Diverse Representations

Though Houston's life ultimately ended in a tragic and early death, she was a young Black woman who broke through to the highest stratosphere of the entertainment business, serving as a powerful symbol for women, especially Black women, all over the world. Many other Black actors appear, and the movie was directed by a Black woman, Kasi Lemmons. Includes Houston's relationship with her lifelong best friend, Robyn Crawford: The two women were a romantic couple until rumors spread about Houston's sexuality.

Did we miss something on diversity? Suggest an update.

Violence & Scariness

Some of Houston and Brown's fights get physical: He pins her against a wall and, in a way that seems very threatening, tells her never to "disrespect" him; she responds by saying she's going to get a gun and "smoke" his "ass" (she doesn't).

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Violence & Scariness in your kid's entertainment guide.

Sex, Romance & Nudity

Kissing, sometimes followed by characters shown waking up in bed together. A tumultuous marriage is part of this narrative.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Sex, Romance & Nudity in your kid's entertainment guide.

Strong language includes a use of "f---ing," plus "s--t," "damn," "hell," and "ass."

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Language in your kid's entertainment guide.

Products & Purchases

Houston gets visibly wealthier over the course of the movie, with private jets, fancy hotel rooms, and a spacious and luxuriously appointed house shown.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Houston had acknowledged substance dependencies that contributed to her untimely death. She's shown smoking cigarettes and marijuana and preparing to smoke crack: She gets a glass pipe out and lights a spoon, but viewers don't see her actually inhale. Many characters drink to excess, and the effect of both drink and drugs is evident in characters who are sloppy and incoherent. In a touching scene, Houston's attentive manager tells her that she should go to rehab, but Houston doesn't.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Drinking, Drugs & Smoking in your kid's entertainment guide.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that I Wanna Dance with Somebody is a biopic about the life and career of Whitney Houston ( Naomi Ackie ), the talented singer who in the 1980s and 1990s had more hit singles than the Beatles. Most viewers will know going in that Houston died in 2012 at age 48. While her untimely death isn't depicted on-screen, viewers do see plenty of other iffy content as the film presents episodes from her life. Houston smokes cigarettes and marijuana and drinks wine and liquor. She's also shown rolling up a dollar bill in preparation for snorting cocaine and lighting a spoon and wielding a glass pipe in preparation for smoking crack. Drugs played a part in her death, as well as in her tumultuous relationship with singer Bobby Brown (Ashton Sanders). They fight frequently and use substances together; in one scene, Brown threatens Houston physically, and she says she's going to get a gun and shoot him dead. Sexual content includes passionate kissing (including between Houston her lifelong best friend, Robyn Crawford, whom she was in a relationship with until rumors spread about Houston's sexuality), implied sex, and heated discussion of infidelity. Strong language includes "f---ing," "s--t," "damn," "hell," and "ass." To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails .

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Community Reviews

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Based on 4 parent reviews

It might not live up to the hypness, but it does deliver a strong performance!

The life of whitney houston on the origins, what's the story.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Whitney Houston ( Naomi Ackie ) was a groundbreaking musical superstar. WHITNEY HOUSTON: I WANNA DANCE WITH SOMEBODY (named in honor of her most enduring hit) traces her life from teenage gospel soloist to background singer to pop icon ... and eventually to tabloid mainstay thanks to her substance abuse and contentious relationship with R&B star Bobby Brown (Ashton Sanders). Tamara Tunie co-stars as Houston's mom, soul singer Cissy Houston, and Stanley Tucci plays Houston's longtime producer Clive Davis.

Is It Any Good?

Most viewers will know exactly where this biopic is headed, but it avoids becoming a complete downer by concentrating largely on Houston's successes rather than her flaws. As Houston, Ackie is vibrant and sympathetic. She's larger than life, just as Houston was herself, and inhabits the movie's many full-length performance scenes with spine-tingling star oomph. Fans familiar with Houston's onstage high points -- including the 1994 American Music Awards medley that many call her greatest TV turn and her extraordinary 1991 rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" at Super Bowl 25 -- will likely break out in goosebumps watching Ackie powerfully reenacting those moments (although, no, she's not singing herself, except for a few moments when she sings between snatches of dialogue, though she does an excellent lip synch to Houston's vocals).

But in between high-point performances, things sag a bit. The movie rushes through many parts of Houston's story, a typical problem with films that try to condense decades' worth of life into a two-hour running time. And the movie doesn't seem to have a good idea of why Houston transitioned from being America's sweetheart to becoming a tabloid staple. Problems arise (Daddy steals Whitney's money, Brown cheats) and are just as quickly dismissed. Thankfully, I Wanna Dance with Somebody is refreshingly clear on the nature of Houston's relationship with her lifelong best friend, Robyn Crawford (they were a romantic couple until rumors spread about Houston's sexuality), and doesn't dwell on Houston's hit-bottom points: There's no mention of Brown and Houston's infamous reality show, for instance. Ultimately, though, you're left with the impression that you didn't learn much more about Houston than you knew going in, and that's a bitter pill to swallow considering the film's expansive 2-hour, 26-minute running time. But when Ackie takes the stage as Houston, this drama soars, and for fans, that may be enough.

Talk to Your Kids About ...

Families can talk about the mix of fame, fortune, and drug problems that the music industry seems to serve up so frequently. According to Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody , do you think Houston's success influenced her substance abuse ?

Talk about TV and movie biopics. How true does a story have to be to a person's real life to be considered biographical? Is it appropriate to take creative license with someone's life story? What if it makes for better entertainment?

Have you ever learned something you didn't know about your favorite celebrity or media role model that was surprisingly negative? Did that change the way you felt about that person?

Movie Details

  • In theaters : December 23, 2022
  • On DVD or streaming : February 7, 2023
  • Cast : Naomi Ackie , Stanley Tucci , Tamara Tunie
  • Director : Kasi Lemmons
  • Inclusion Information : Female directors, Black directors, Female actors, Black actors
  • Studio : TriStar Pictures
  • Genre : Drama
  • Topics : Music and Sing-Along
  • Run time : 142 minutes
  • MPAA rating : PG-13
  • MPAA explanation : strong drug content, some strong language, suggestive references and smoking
  • Last updated : April 25, 2023

Did we miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.

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Screen Rant

Whitney houston: i wanna dance with somebody review - great cast, standard biopic.

For a biopic, I Wanna Dance with Somebody follows the norms of the genre but allows Naomi Ackie to deliver a sensational performance in the process.

Nearly 11 years ago, global sensation and renowned superstar Whitney E. Houston shocked the world with her untimely death. Because of her remarkable artistry, which later deemed her "The Voice," she’s had great influence on pop culture as it exists today. Given her celebrity, Houston’s life has been documented onscreen in a variety of projects. In 2018, Whitney , which premiered at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, became the second of three documentaries on the star’s life. More recently, Lifetime premiered the biographical film, Whitney , which starred Yaya DaCosta as the titular character with Angela Bassett in the director’s chair. Now, Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody sees a chronological telling of the late singer’s rise to fame in addition to the problems she faced in the process.

Whitney Houston was a vocal powerhouse and star from the moment she entered show business. Directed by Kasi Lemmons from a script written by Academy Award nominee Anthony McCarten, who also penned the script for Bohemian Rhapsody , the film portrays the complexities of the multifaceted woman behind major hits like her rendition of Dolly Parton’s "I Will Always Love You" and "I Have Nothing." From New Jersey choir girl to one of the best-selling and most awarded recording artists of all time, viewers can expect an inspirational and emotional journey of Whitney Houston’s trailblazing career, with great performance depictions and insight into the woman behind the voice. For a biopic, I Wanna Dance with Somebody follows the norms of the genre but allows Naomi Ackie, who stars as the late singer, to deliver a sensational performance in the process.

Related: Whitney Houston Movie Trailer Re-Creates Iconic Super Bowl Performance

With so many documentaries and films before this one, I Wanna Dance with Somebody doesn’t have much else to reveal about the beloved and iconic singer that was Whitney Houston. For all intents and purposes, Lemmons’ feature acts less like a history lesson (despite its storytelling model) and more like a celebration of all that Houston was, for better or worse. Sure, McCarten’s script crams in every possible major hit and occurrence into the film, but that enables Lemmons to let loose in reminding audiences why Houston was such a star.

That said, there are some missing pieces from which the film could have benefited. Early childhood years, for example, could have impacted the story further, giving audiences insight into how Houston developed such a powerhouse voice. In lieu of featuring these elements, I Wanna Dance with Somebody relies on viewers’ existing knowledge of the superstar, only briefly giving insights into what led to her troubles. On the other hand, the reliance on her voice and less on her problems and tragedies is what makes Lemmons’ latest a fun and easy watch. It gives the audience a sense of joy, which ultimately comes off as a celebration of life instead of rehashing the intricacies of Houston's personal struggles.

While the creative team behind I Wanna Dance with Somebody puts in very little effort to avoid being just another biopic, it is the cast that goes above and beyond to bring a picture to the big screen that is worth the watch. Naomi Ackie truly commits to delivering a performance that brings in equal amounts of laughs and tears. For viewers unfamiliar with her work, now is the time to get behind her remarkable talent. Black Lightning’s Nafessa Williams also delivers a wondrous performance as Houston’s long-time best friend Robyn Crawford. If there’s anything to take away from this story through their performances alone, it’s that everlasting friendship among women is a blessing.

In the end, Lemmons and McCarten’s chronological overview of Houston’s stardom is a fine biopic that doesn’t offer new insights — at least not to longtime fans of the singer. What it lacks in showcasing the woman behind the voice it makes up for in the depictions of some of Houston’s most recognized performances. I Wanna Dance with Somebody celebrates the star that captured the hearts of many fans around the world. And through a great performance by Ackie, this film has the ability to do the same, even if it sticks to genre rules.

More: Babylon Review: Robbie Is Alluring In Chazelle's Glitzy, Hollow Ode To Hollywood

I Wanna Dance with Somebody will release in theaters nationwide on December 23. The film is 146 minutes long and rated PG-13 for strong drug content, some strong language, suggestive references, and smoking.

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Naomi Ackie as Whitney Houston in I Wanna Dance With Somebody.

I Wanna Dance With Somebody review – doggedly formulaic Whitney Houston biopic

The singer’s voice is mostly lip-synced, by British actor Naomi Ackie, but this by-numbers film falls well short of capturing Houston’s mega-watt appeal

G iven the movie-friendly trajectory of Whitney Houston’s life and career (stellar rise; glittering success; tragic fall: check!), the main surprise is that it took as long as it did for her to end up as fodder for the always-hungry music biopic industry. What’s no surprise at all, unfortunately, is that this doggedly formulaic picture struggles to capture even a fraction of the electrifying sparkle of Houston at the peak of her powers. As music mogul Clive Davis (Stanley Tucci) says, having just had his comb-over blasted several feet off his balding pate by the young Whitney’s vocal range, hers was a once-in-a-generation voice.

Not surprisingly, it’s predominantly Houston’s voice we hear in the film, with British actor Naomi Ackie lip-syncing pretty convincingly in the central role. But Houston was more than just that incredible voice. Her stage presence, her style, her winning charisma: it all combined into something unique. Something that Ackie only sporadically captures.

It should be stressed that the problem doesn’t lie with Ackie necessarily, but rather with a leaden, by-numbers screenplay from Anthony McCarten, who brings to this film the same box-ticking approach he employed with Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody . And director Kasi Lemmons seems content to skim through the early part of Houston’s journey in a flighty, extended montage, only slowing down to dig into the story once the addiction has kicked in, the marriage is imploding and Houston’s downfall is under way.

This slightly salacious fascination with the fall from glory is something that I Wanna Dance With Somebody shares with numerous other music biopics. But unlike Walk the Line , say, or Ray , there is no redemptive arc to soften the blow. At the film’s conclusion, Lemmons refrains from showing Houston’s death (although there are a few too many pointed shots of dripping bath taps), instead opting for a flashback to a high point in the singer’s career. It’s a powerful device, but one that doesn’t feel entirely sincere.

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Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody Review

Same script, different cast..

Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody Review - IGN Image

Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody hits theaters on Dec. 23, 2022.

The music biopic is among the most stale and predictable of Hollywood’s modern “prestige” pictures. In the case of Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody (hastily re-titled to add the singer’s name earlier this month) when a director as capable as Kasi Lemmons gets sucked into the subgenre’s orbit, but remains unable to elevate the story beyond its rote formulism, it might be time to retire – or, at the very least, strongly re-evaluate – the concept. Then again, if Freddie Mercury movie Bohemian Rhapsody wasn’t its death knell, despite the uncanny resemblance to parody movie Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story , we may have no choice but to accept that Wikipedia articles in the guise of movies will continue to exist side by side with their note-perfect send ups. Weird , if you’ll recall, came out just last month.

If that means grading these films on a curve, then sure: watch I Wanna Dance With Somebody because Houston was an icon. However, know that she deserves a better movie than just another youth-to-death checklist with an addiction detour, but no coherent sense of time or causality (the kind that Baz Luhrmann could only make work in Elvis by turning it into a pop-fueled fever dream). Watch it because Naomi Ackie shines in the title role, and watch it because Lemmons manages to extract an ounce or two of humanity from the script by Anthony McCarten — who, by the way, was the offender behind not only Rhapsody, but a slew of average-at-best award season biopics, from The Theory of Everything to The Darkest Hour . His next film in this mechanical genre is about experimental pop artist Andy Warhol and neo-expressionist Jean-Michel Basquiat . It can’t help but read like a cruel joke where the audience is the punchline.

The longer you stare at I Wanna Dance With Somebody, the more you notice its “For Your Consideration: Best Picture” watermark stamped across every scene. It begins in New Jersey in 1983, just before a 20-year-old Houston is discovered by record executives at a local performance — an event which we are, of course, treated to in detail. The film’s initial scenes are among its strongest and most intimate, between the introduction of Houston’s parents, tough Gospel singer Cissy (Tamara Tunie) and streetwise manager John (Clarke Peters), as well as her first meeting with the boyish Robyn Crawford (Nafessa Williams), with whom Houston would have a relationship that would eventually turn into a friend-and-manager role. The script, however, not only takes liberties with how they met — they were both counselors at a summer camp, but the movie’s neighborhood meet-cute speeds things along — but when they met as well. In real life, it was 1980; Crawford was 19 while Houston was only 16, but the film avoids any potential entanglements and complications with regards to their dynamic.

This trend continues for much of its runtime. Issues and complexities are swept under the rug no sooner than they arise, leading to condensed scenes with little conflict to behold. Hurdles like Houston and Crawford being spotted in public briefly arise, as do accusations levied against Houston’s music for not being “Black enough,” but the story ends up unconcerned with these vectors of queer and racial identity beyond mere passing mentions. Before we know it, any fights or eruptions over these problems, especially between the leading couple, are long in the past, having been resolved off-screen. The script’s modus operandi isn’t meaningful drama, but rather, speeding forward to tick off all the predetermined events on its checklist during its 146 minutes, despite Lemmons’ greatest efforts.

What's the best recent music biopic?

Those efforts are occasionally noticeable, at least. Lemmons wasn’t the first director attached to the project, but she made for a promising addition as the filmmaker behind Harriet , her Harriet Tubman biopic (which she also co-wrote) that avoided the historical speedrun treatment by doubling as a tale of faith and mysticism. I Wanna Dance With Somebody has no such flourishes, but Lemmons is also a distinctly humanist filmmaker. So, while the movie charges forward from scene to scene with little resonance between events, the scenes themselves occasionally reveal hidden dimensions to each character, given Lemmons’ lingering closeups.

This is helped greatly by the performances. They’re worthwhile across the board, between Williams’ silently pained conception of Crawford, Stanley Tucci as Clive Davis, Houston’s kind record executive confidant — granted, Davis was one of the movie’s producers, so he ends up valorized as a guardian angel — and Moonlight ’s Ashton Sanders as an explosive, manipulative, and surprisingly layered Bobby Brown, Houston’s eventual husband. Tying it all together is Ackie, a star of the highest caliber, who paints her version of Houston not only with nuance, but a radiant and alluring presence befitting of the music icon.

However, the film’s use of that grand iconography is usually dull. The title, for instance, is taken from one of Houston’s greatest songs , and while its inception in the story hints at a struggle between soul and populism — between artistry and selling out — there’s eventually no such conflict. Her work often comes into existence without meaning or dramatization, once again adhering to the movie’s checklist structure. “And then this happened. And then she recorded that song. And then she gave this performance,” and so on. There’s no soul to it.

Worse yet, the story’s ending hinges on knowing the exact timeline and circumstances of Houston’s premature passing, which it only hints at obliquely. It’s too afraid to get its hands dirty in service of telling an actual story about a real and messy person, one with any kind of agency beyond the ways she may have been victimized — Houston’s estate was closely involved with the production — resulting in a half-remembered recollection of sanded down events, rather than rigorous, impactful drama.

The Best Movie of 2022

whitney houston i wanna dance with somebody movie reviews

It’s yet another entry in Hollywood’s discography-as-intellectual property genre, where the real human beings behind art don’t matter nearly as much as the work and image they produced, now re-packaged and re-commodified for consumption once again. Few things are more ironic.

You’ve seen this before. Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody is a jukebox biopic more concerned with preserving Houston’s legacy than depicting the real challenges she faced. So, it commits the ultimate biopic faux pas in the process. Despite director Kasi Lemmons’ best efforts (which are sometimes noticeable), it reduces Houston to just another interchangeable name and face with nothing truly special about her.

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Review: Clumsy Whitney Houston biopic mars its star’s skill

This image released by Sony Pictures shows Naomi Ackie in Tristar's "Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody." (Emily Aragones/Sony Pictures via AP)

This image released by Sony Pictures shows Naomi Ackie in Tristar’s “Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody.” (Emily Aragones/Sony Pictures via AP)

CORRECTS THE POSITION OF DAVIS AND TUCCI IN THE FRAME - Clive Davis, left, and Stanley Tucci attend the world premiere of “Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody” at AMC Lincoln Square on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2022, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

This image released by Sony Pictures shows Stanley Tucci, left, and Naomi Ackie in Tristar’s “Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody.” (Emily Aragones/Sony Pictures via AP)

This image released by Sony Pictures shows Nafessa Williams, left, and Naomi Ackie in Tristar’s “Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody.” (Emily Aragones/Sony Pictures via AP)

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whitney houston i wanna dance with somebody movie reviews

Whitney Houston’s voice was one of a kind and the creative team behind a new big-budget biopic of the singer had no choice but to agree.

Naomi Ackie, who plays Houston in “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” turns in a fierce performance but is asked to lip-sync throughout to Houston biggest hits. The effect is, at best, an expensive karaoke session.

The dilemma that Houston’s own prodigious gift put everyone in is understandable: The chances of finding someone who resembles the singer is hard enough; finding someone who also has the awe-inducing, fluttery vocal ability is a fool’s errand.

But the solution would have been choosing between focusing on Houston’s story or making a documentary that features her singing. It’s unfair to ask Ackie to act her heart out and also have her execute large parts of Houston’s iconic live performances in mimic mode. It’s an uncanny canyon.

The movie is written by Anthony McCarten, who told Freddie Mercury’s story in “Bohemian Rhapsody” and is having quite a moment with two shows on Broadway — “The Collaboration” about artists Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat and “A Beautiful Noise,” a musical about Neil Diamond. McCarten clearly has impressed producers with an ability to tell the stories of modern icons but with Houston the hook is, well, business pressure.

“I Wanna Dance With Somebody” is more like a hyped-up “Behind the Music” episode set to Houston’s greatest hits album. It leans on all the cliches: overbearing parents, bad-boy boyfriends and giddy, champagne-popping montages on the way up and sullen montages on the way down as she’s hunted by paparazzi.

Houston is portrayed as a woman who seizes her destiny only late in her cut-short life after struggling with the burden of being the family breadwinner for most of it.

“Everyone is using me as an ATM!” she screams at one point.

Stanley Tucci plays a subdued and concerned Clive Davis — the record executive helped produce the film and comes off like a prince — and Nafessa Williams is superb as Houston’s best friend, manager and lover.

McCarten frames the climax of Houston’s life at the 1994 American Music Awards, where she won eight awards and performed a medley of songs. It is where director Kasi Lemmons’ camera starts and ends, part of an excruciating final section goodbye to the icon that lasts for what feels like an hour and ends with a heavy-handed, written statement that Houston was the “greatest voice of her generation.”

Credit to the Houston estate for not sanitizing Houston’s life, showing her early love affair with a woman, her pushy, demanding parents, the backlash from some in the Black community and not shying away from the descent into drugs that would kill her in 2012 at age 48.

“To sing with the gods, you sometimes need a ladder,” Houston rationalizes in the movie.

Some highlights of the film include Houston and Davis picking hit songs in his office and the recreations of the filming of the video “How Will I Know” and Houston’s triumphant national anthem performance at Super Bowl XXV. Costume designer Charlese Antoinette Jones has joyously remade key looks, from Houston’s hair bow and arm warmers to the stunning wedding dress with beaded and sequined cloche hat.

Less well-realized is the section exploring her filming of “The Bodyguard” — the filmmakers try to pass off an old clip of Kevin Costner on the set, a trick they try again later with Oprah — and the portrayal of husband Bobby Brown is not nuanced, leaving him the clear villain of the piece. Lemmons (“Harriet”) also uses a recurring image of a faucet dripping, a graceless way of foreshadowing her death.

Ackie’s performance is something to be cheered, reaching for the the kind of authenticity that Andra Day channeled when she also tackled a doomed musical icon in “The United States vs. Billie Holiday.”

But so much clumsiness, scenes featuring unnaturally heightened drama with little insight and the compromised authenticity of the performances drag “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” down — ultimately, it’s not right but it’s just OK.

“I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” a Sony Pictures release exclusively in theaters Dec. 23, is rated PG-13 for “strong drug content, some strong language, suggestive references and smoking.” Running time: 146 minutes. Two stars out of four.

MPAA Definition of PG-13: Parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

Online: https://www.iwannadancewithsomebody.movie

Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

Mark Kennedy

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Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody’ on Netflix, a Flatline Biopic of a GOAT Who Deserves Better

Where to stream:.

  • I Wanna Dance with Somebody
  • whitney houston

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This week on This Week in Biopics is Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody (now on Netflix, in addition to VOD streaming platforms like Amazon Prime Video ), which casts Naomie Ackie as the wildly talented, popular and tragic pop singer. It has the potential to be a star-making role for Ackie, who we saw in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker , and will see next in Mickey 17 , Bong Joon-ho’s hotly anticipated follow-up to Parasite . But it also might be a thankless role, considering the following: One, the ubiquitousness of the subject. Two, the tragic arc of the singer’s life, which deserves more than a rote Behind the Music treatment. And three, the state of the biopic, especially the music biopic, in 2023; it’s pretty much dead these days, at least creatively. Harriet and Eve’s Bayou director Kasi Lemmons tries to get her arms around Whitney here, but it’s a frankly difficult task.

WHITNEY HOUSTON: I WANNA DANCE WITH SOMEBODY : STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?

The Gist: We open in 1994. Whitney warms up her voice for a performance at the American Music Awards. But this isn’t really where we open – we soon jump all the way back to 1983, destroying any hope that the movie might be brave enough not to try encompassing 30 years in a person’s life in just under two-and-a-half hours. Whitney’s about 20 years old, letting rip, leading the church choir. Afterward, her mother Cissy (Tamara Tunie) cracks the whip: Enunciate! Know the melody inside and out! Cissy knows what she’s doing – she’s had a long career as a singer, and currently employs Whitney as a backup vocalist for club gigs. One night, Cissy spots superstar record exec Clive Davis (Stanley Tucci) in the crowd, forces Whitney to fly solo on ‘The Greatest Love of All,’ and history is made.

As Clive takes Whitney under her wing, her romance with Robyn (Nafessa Williams) is strained – to hear Whitney’s dad John (Clarke Peters) say it, you can’t be America’s Pop Star Sweetheart and be seen relationshipping around with another girl. She and Robyn duke it out a bit but decide to just be friends, with Robyn working as her personal assistant, and it works. Clive pops songwriter-demo cassettes – click, whirr, ch-chunk – and Whitney picks the “great big songs.” Then Whitney sings on Merv Griffin. Whitney sings in the studio. Whitney shoots a music video. Whitney hears her song on the radio and flips the eff out. Whitney sings in front of packed arenas. Whitney gets a bottle of Dom Perignon from Clive for every no. 1 hit, and she lines up seven of them. Whitney moves into a gigantic mansion. Whitney’s dad takes control of managing the business, which smells like a bad idea. Whitney is only 23. 

It continues, but this stuff isn’t always so rosy. Whitney claps back at a radio DJ who accuses her of “not being black enough.” Whitney argues with her father. Whitney tells Clive, “I wanna do a movie.” Whitney does cocaine. Whitney meets Bobby Brown (Ashton Sanders). Whitney sings the National Anthem at the Super Bowl. Whitney shoots The Bodyguard . Whitney sings in South Africa to honor Nelson Mandela. Whitney and Bobby get married even though he’s nothin’ but trouble. Whitney has a baby, I think – I glanced down for a sec, and all this stuff was just coming so fast. OK, I double checked: Whitney has a baby. Whitney gets less and less happy as the years go by. Whitney smokes crack. Whitney fights with Bobby. Whitney looks at the books, and her dad has been blowing money like crazy. Whitney has some rough live gigs. Whitney talks with Clive, who’s kind of her confidant. It continues like this, until it doesn’t. 

What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: On the music-biopic scale, I Wanna Dance isn’t as nutty as Elvis , as cruddy as Bohemian Rhapsody , or as rousing as Ray . It’s about on par with middling Aretha Franklin bio Respect or The United States vs. Billie Holiday .

Performance Worth Watching: Unlike Austin Butler in Elvis or Jennifer Hudson in Respect , Ackie doesn’t actually sing here, but lip-syncs the heck out of ‘I Will Always Love You’ and ‘Greatest Love of All’ and all the other hits – which isn’t a knock on her, since nobody before or since Whitney did or ever will sing like Whitney. Ackie shows considerable actorly acumen, although she’s hampered by a screenplay that tries to do way too much. 

Memorable Dialogue: Whitney gets righteous and confident:

Whitney: That’s what they want – America’s sweetheart.

Robyn: And you’re gonna give it to ’em?

Whitney: Just watch me.

Sex and Skin: None.

Our Take: Dramatized Wikipedia. I Wanna Dance with Somebody covers most every major Whitney life moment – and there are a lot of them – diligently. Some will praise Whitney’s estate for greenlighting an authorized biopic that dares to include her drug use, ugly moments from her marriage to Bobby Brown and sort-of-secret same-sex relationship. Those are facts from her life, and shouldn’t be ignored or glossed over. But Lemmons and screenwriter Anthony McCarten (who penned the similarly unimpressive Bohemian Rhapsody ) never get to the truth about Whitney, piecing together one scene after another after another, as if following a timeline instead of an emotionally engaging dramatic arc. It’s like writing a pop song with lyrics, melody and rhythm, but without a hook. 

This isn’t to say the film is unwatchable. It’s perfectly watchable, but disappointingly in line with ancient music-bio formulae: Elated highs, histrionic lows, montages and, of course, musical performances, which feel perfunctory when they should be electrifying. The dialogue is an awkward blend of exposition and sloganeering: “Every song is a story. If it’s not a story, it’s not a song,” “Remember: Head, heart, gut,” “I just wanna sing.” The depiction of Clive Davis – a credited producer – borders on saintly, and the rest of the supporting characters are rendered too thin to be memorable, even bad boy Bobby Brown. The tempo is choppy, the narrative full of abrupt transitions lacking the connective tissue to properly orient us in terms of setting or the emotional state of our protagonist – one moment she’s confident, and the next, she’s lugubrious.  

So the film follows Whitney’s slide from the top of the world into a depressive state. But why? Drug addiction? Public scrutiny? The high-pressure music business? Her failed marriage? Mental illness? Again, these are all things that happen, but the film is so busy covering all the bases like a historical documentary, it fails to truly address the substance of her character. There’s no arguing that Whitney was an all-timer, a generational talent (an assertion reiterated so frequently in the dialogue, it becomes grating). She’s one of the GOATs – and she surely deserves more than just a baseline-watchable biopic. 

Our Call: I Wanna Dance with Somebody is dutiful at best, but it never pops. SKIP IT. 

John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. 

  • Stream It Or Skip It

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Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody parents guide

Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody Parent Guide

At three hours, this movie manages to feel both overlong and strangely rushed..

Theaters: In the 1980's a young Whitney Houston is discovered and rises to superstardom only to struggle with drugs and complicated relationships.

Release date December 22, 2022

Run Time: 146 minutes

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The guide to our grades, parent movie review by kirsten hawkes.

Whitney Houston (Naomi Ackie) was born with two gifts: first, a spectacular voice, and second, a mother (Tamara Tunie) whose own musical career enabled her to train her daughter and give her the exposure necessary to make it in the music industry. But even for a girl with a golden voice, there are no guarantees…

Moviegoers over the age of twenty will be familiar with Whitney Houston’s hit songs and amazing vocal range. Director Kasi Lemmons is clearly fascinated by Ms. Houston and her musical gifts and tries to help audiences understand the artist and enjoy her most iconic performances. She almost pulls it off.

Ms. Lemmons is somewhat less successful in helping us understand Whitney Houston’s inner life. For an overlong film, I Wanna Dance With Somebody feels rushed, with some important issues being short-changed. Houston’s lesbian relationship with Robyn Crawford (Nafessa Williams) starts believably but evolves into a platonic friendship with only minimal discussion. The long-term effects of giving up that relationship are also not explored. Houston’s marriage is equally difficult to understand: it’s never entirely clear why she decides to marry Bobby Brown (Ashton Sanders), a man six years her junior who comes with lots of baggage, including a pregnant ex-girlfriend. Audiences will also wonder why Houston has such a hard time fighting free of her dishonest and manipulative father (Clarke Peters). In fact, the only relationship in the film that makes sense is the one with her mother. Cissy Houston knows exactly what it takes to make it in the music industry, but she never forgets that her daughter is a person with limits and vulnerabilities.

Sadly, Whitney Houston’s vulnerabilities are widely known: her drug use was tabloid fodder for years before her unfortunate death. The film doesn’t gloss over her addictions and Houston is shown getting drunk, smoking marijuana, and using crack. None of this behavior is glamorized and one wrenching scene sees her, stoned and sitting in a walk-in closet, where the walls are covered in scribbled words and strange images. This movie is practically an extended play version of a “Just Say No” ad. For me, one of the most wrenching sights is Whitney Houston smoking cigarettes, despite the cost to her voice. As her ever-faithful producer, Clive Davis tells her, “For you, smoking is like leaving a stradivarius out in the rain.” The abuse of such a precious natural gift is hard to watch.

Much of this film is hard to watch, and it doesn’t end well. Whitney Houston’s life is a matter of public record, and for the 50-year-olds in the theater with me, it’s a matter of memory. For older audiences, this movie is a stroll down a musical memory lane. Whether or not this will appeal to younger audiences remains to be seen.

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Kirsten hawkes, watch the trailer for whitney houston: i wanna dance with somebody.

Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody Rating & Content Info

Why is Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody rated PG-13? Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for strong drug content, some strong language, smoking, and suggestive references

Violence:   There are loud verbal arguments between husbands and wives. In one scene, a man grabs his wife by the jaw and threatens her. She threatens to get a gun to protect herself from him. There is mention of an offscreen accidental death. An angry woman throws plates and other household objects while she yells. Sexual Content: There is an implied lesbian relationship with scenes of women embracing and kissing. There are scenes of a man and woman kissing. There are implied sexual relationships between unmarried men and women but there is no on-screen content. A woman is hospitalized for a miscarriage. An adulterous relationship is mentioned. Profanity: There are just over three dozen profanities in the script, including 12 scatological curses, 10 terms of deity, seven anatomical phrases, seven minor profanities, and a single sexual expletive. There are also two sexual hand gestures. Alcohol / Drug Use:   An adult smokes cigars. Main characters smoke cigarettes, sometimes to combat stress. There are frequent scenes of alcohol consumption in social contexts and in situations where the alcohol is being abused. There are several scenes of main characters using or preparing to use drugs, including marijuana and crack. A main character is shown severely damaged by drugs, in a large closet with bizarre words and images written on the walls.

Page last updated January 22, 2024

Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody Parents' Guide

What factors do you think contributed to Whitney Houston’s final collapse? How do you think her father, her husband, and her drug abuse affected her? How do you think her relationship with Robyn impacted her life? Why do you think she continued to smoke, despite tobacco’s obviously harmful effects on her voice? Do you struggle with any self-destructive behaviors? What resources are available to help you?

You can learn more about Whitney Houston at the links below:

History vs Hollywood: Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody (2022)

Wikipedia: Whitney Houston

The Guardian: “Our friendship was intimate on all levels”: Robyn Crawford on her love for Whitney Houston

Related home video titles:

Freddie Mercury also had a tremendous vocal range and complicated issues related to his sexual orientation. His story is told in Bohemian Rhapsody , which shares a writer, Anthony McCarten, with I Wanna Dance With Somebody.

Another successful Black female recording artist with a powerful voice was Aretha Franklin. She was well acquainted with Whitney Houston and her story is told in Respect.

Elvis is another film featuring electrifying concert footage and less successful dramatic interludes – and an artist fighting a losing battle with drugs.

I Wanna Dance With Somebody

Cast & crew.

Naomi Ackie

Whitney Houston

Stanley Tucci

Clive Davis

Nafessa Williams

Robyn Crawford

Tamara Tunie

Cissy Houston

Clarke Peters

John Houston

  • Average 5.3
  • Reviews 136

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Billboard

Whitney Houston Movie Producers Never Paid For Songs, Sony Music Claims in New Lawsuit

Sony Music Entertainment is suing the producers of the 2022 biopic Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody , accusing them of failing to pay for the more than 20 Whitney tracks that appeared in the movie.

In a lawsuit filed Thursday in New York federal court, Sony claims that Anthem Films, Black Label Media and others behind the movie signed deals for sync licenses to feature songs like "I Will Always Love You" in the movie – but that more than a year after the film was released, the label hasn't been paid a dime.

"To date, Anthem has not paid the fees, or any portion of the fees, due under the agreements," Sony's lawyer, Christine Lepera of the firm Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp, wrote in the complaint. As a result, the Sony says the use of the songs amounts to "willful and deliberate infringement" of its copyrights.

Riding a wave of enthusiasm for musical biopics – 2018's "Bohemian Rhapsody" earned more $900 million at the box office and Baz Luhrmann's 2022 "Elvis" made $288 million – "I Wanna Dance" was released in December 2022 to middling reviews and an underwhelming return of $59.8 million gross.

According to Thursday's lawsuit, Anthem and others signed a sync license agreement on Dec. 5, 2022 – less than ten days before the movie's release – covering the use of Sony's sound recordings of Houston's songs, including "Greatest Love of All," "I'm Every Woman" and the titular "I Wanna Dance with Somebody."

"Unlike other types of films, musical biopics by their nature require use of the subject musician's music, as it is nearly impossible to explain the importance of a musician's creative genius or unique style and talent without the use of the musician's music," Sony wrote. "Aware of the need for authorization to use Plaintiffs' sound recordings in order to produce a biopic about the life and music of Whitney Houston, and aware of the value of plaintiffs' catalog, Anthem entered into a license agreement."

But by August, Sony says it had not been paid anything. After notifying Anthem of the problem, the company allegedly told Sony that it was waiting on funds from a tax credit owed by the state of Massachusetts. But such a payment never came, Sony says.

"As a result of Anthem's failure to pay the fees to SME, it is clear that there was no license or authorization to use the SME Recordings used in the Film," the company's attorneys wrote. "Nevertheless, the Film embodying the SME Recordings was, and continues to be, exhibited, distributed, and exploited."

As defendants, the lawsuit names Anthem Films, a Boston-area film production company that allegedly produced the movie; NYBO Productions LLC, the entity that allegedly owns the copyright to the movie; Black Label Media, a Los Angeles film finance company; and WH Movie LLC, an entity allegedly created by Black Label to help finance the movie.

According to the lawsuit, the complex corporate structure behind "I Wanna Dance" potentially played into the lack of payment.

Though Sony says it notified Anthem that it was open to waiting for for the Massachusetts tax credit to be paid out, it demanded that such an agreement be formalized in writing. Anthem allegedly refused, saying that Black Label had "approval rights over Anthem's and NYBO's expenditures" and ultimately "ordered that Anthem neither pay SME out of the proceeds of the tax credit payment nor direct the relevant tax authority to credit SME the amount of the Fees."

In technical legal terms, the lawsuit accused Anthem and NYBO of direct copyright infringement, while it accused Black Label and WH Movie of so-called vicarious copyright infringement – meaning they had some control over Anthem and profited from its alleged wrongdoing.

In a statement to Billboard on Friday, a representative for Black Label said the company was "one of many investors in this film, should not have been named in the lawsuit, and looks forward to being dismissed from it promptly." The other defendants could not immediately be reached for comment. A spokeswoman for Sony Music did not return a request for comment on the lawsuit.

Read the entire legal complaint here:

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Whitney Houston Movie Producers Never Paid For Songs, Sony Music Claims in New Lawsuit

BroadwayWorld

Video: The Radio City Rockettes Dance to Whitney Houston's 'I Wanna Dance With Somebody'

The iconic dance group is celebrating the start of Women's History Month!

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The Radio City Rockettes are celebrating Women’s History Month with an all new special dance video! The iconic dancers took to the stage to dance to Whitney Houston ’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” - filmed onstage at Radio City Music Hall! 

The Rockettes are described as icons of women’s empowerment – a unified line of strong, unique, independent women who inspire people worldwide to be bold and follow their dreams.  

Check out the video here!

Video Credit: MSG Entertainment 

Interview: GIRLS5EVA Cast Pitches a Broadway-Themed Season Video

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