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  • Writer's picturePopEntertainment

I Wanna Dance With Somebody (A Movie Review)

Updated: Dec 31, 2022


Starring Naomi Ackie, Stanley Tucci, Nafessa Williams, Tamara Tunie, Ashton Sanders, Clarke Peters,Bria Danielle Singleton, Daniel Washington, Kris Sidberry, Marilyn Swick, Naheem Garcia, Greg Roman, Alana Monteiro, Heidi Garza, Tanner Beard, Jennifer Ellis, JaQuan Malik Jones, Alexa Renée, Courtney Caruso, Dave Heard, Rob Lévesque and Lance A. Williams.

Screenplay by Anthony McCarten.

Directed by Kasi Lemmons.

Distributed by Sony Pictures Releasing. 146 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Whitney Houston had a fascinating, exciting, tragic, complex life. There is a whole lot of stuff that went on in her life – both the highs and the lows – probably more than can be explored in a movie. Even a relatively long two-and-a-half-hour movie.

I Wanna Dance With Somebody rushes through the years; the accomplishments, the dramas, the scandals, the complications and the early death of arguably the defining singing voice of her generation, giving the film the feel of a greatest hits medley. However, many of those hits are pretty terrific, so it’s often very entertaining. You just never feel like you’re getting the whole song.

Interestingly, I Wanna Dance With Somebody seems to revolve around a single performance of Houston’s – a live medley of “I Loves You Porgy” “And I’m Telling You That I’m Not Going” and “I Have Nothing” which she did on the 1994 American Music Awards. The film starts and ends on the performance, and also mentions it several times throughout the run of the film as proof that Houston was the greatest voice of her time.

I’m not going to lie, I’ve never heard of this particular performance, and while it was stunningly performed (the film uses Houston’s vocals over the lip syncing by star Naomi Ackie) I’m not sure it was the most memorable performance in Houston’s career, not by a long shot.

And that is what I Wanna Dance With Somebody does best – reminding us of Houston’s music and performances, all with newly remixed and powerful sound.

Actress Ackie does a terrific job in portraying the different eras of Houston’s life – recreating performances, capturing her cadences and attitudes (although she doesn’t exactly look like Houston) and capturing her highs and lows.

It falls into a pretty standard music biofilm structure – the rise and fall of a terrific performer, from obscurity to the top of the world, touching on many milestones and showing the temptations of great fame.

As an officially sanctioned biofilm, I Wanna Dance With Somebody slightly pulls its punches on some of the darker aspects of her life. For example, they toy with the longtime gossip that Houston was gay or bi, and possibly involved with her longtime best friend Robin (Nafessa Williams), teasing the possibility of a relationship – even showing them cohabitating, kissing and Robin getting jealous – before pulling away from the possibility quickly and pretty definitively, coyly suggesting that maybe they were mainly just besties after all.

They also have ex-husband Bobby Brown played in a cartoonishly stupid way, almost feeling like a Chris Rock parody of the guy. Now, no one has ever claimed that Bobby Brown was a deep, thoughtful guy, but I have to believe that he was not the gangsta Casanova loser they play him off as. After all, even the film Whitney acknowledges that the drug addiction that ended up taking her life was not Brown’s fault and he got too much blame for it. (Although, in fairness, he certainly didn’t help…)

Also, super producer Clive Davis (as played by Stanley Tucci) is played out as an exceedingly sweet, magnanimous, supportive force in Whitney’s life. Maybe that is even true, but it’s hard to believe that in a relationship that lasted for well over three decades that there wasn’t some acrimony between them ever. However, the super-nice Clive may just be explained by the fact that Davis is one of the producers of the film.

Also, much like Davis, occasionally the film tends to reduce the diva to her sales figures. In the end credits chyron talking about her life, career and death, they make a point to say how she was the only woman to ever to be diamond-certified three times (her 1985 debut album, 1987’s Whitney and the 1992 The Bodyguard soundtrack). Now, I’m a music nerd, so I know what diamond-certified means (ten million albums sold, also known as ten-times platinum), but I’m pretty sure that stat will go right over the head of most casual fans. More to the point, is it really fair to reduce Houston’s career to units sold, or even awards she won, which the end credit chyron also lists faithfully?

Whitney Houston was much more complicated than that. And while I Wanna Dance With Somebody tries its best to capture the essence of Whitney, it comes off a bit more like the Cliff Notes version of her life. It hits on most of the highlights and lowlights, but it doesn’t explore most of them deeply enough. Perhaps this would have worked better as a limited series for TV or streaming, where the story and characters would have room to breathe and get more in depth.

But, man, what a soundtrack. Just hearing these songs again in full cinema sound is definitely worth the price of a ticket.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2022 All rights reserved. Posted: December 22, 2022.


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