Film & TV

Film Review: I Wanna Dance With Somebody

The biopic of Whitney Houston fans have been waiting for.

a showstopper
3.5

A slick biopic of one the most successful music artists of all time, I Wanna Dance with Somebody is an intimate look into the incredible life of Whitney Houston, who died tragically young at the age of 48.

Director Kasi Lemmons (Harriet, Eve’s Bayou) and writer Anthony McCarten of Bohemian Rhapsody fame collaborate in this assured portrayal of a fascinating but complex star. English actor Naomi Ackie (The End of the F***ing World) handles the pressure of depicting Whitney in a superb performance, with all the flicks and movements fans will know so well (although Houston’s own voice was dubbed over for the singing – turns out there really was just one of The Voice!). Stanley Tucci stars as her record label manager Clive Davis – who is also a producer on the film – in a scene-stealing and often humorous role as the sole constant in Whitney’s life.

Raised by her strong-willed parents Cissy and John (played by Tamara Tunie and Clarke Peters respectively) to become a star at a young age, the film explores the immense pressure Whitney was under throughout her life: from an overbearing family, struggles with her sexuality and relationship with friend Robyn Crawford, drug abuse, a turbulent marriage to singer Bobby Brown, and her ongoing fight to be accepted by black audiences after mainstream success among white America.

The film does well to show how Whitney was surrounded by and is a direct product of strong people, particularly black women, encapsulated in one particularly moving scene where she states “Of course I’m exhausted. All Black women are exhausted.” The rise from troubled beginnings to finding her voice on a personal and professional level is an enjoyable ride with many classic moments shown, including her iconic national anthem at the 1991 Superbowl to her acting role in The Bodyguard (sadly, Kevin Costner is not depicted in the film save for a momentary clip).

While the majority of the film offers intriguing insight into Whitney’s rise to the top and incredible success, the final third relies on re-enacting the entirety of famous performances, as enjoyable as they are still, rather than provide further insight into her later life, warts and all. Many viewers will welcome this as the film ticks off all the hits; the row behind me in the cinema burst into spontaneous applause after one such scene! The film also skirts over the more difficult elements of Houston’s life, the most obvious omission being her tragic end due to drug-related issues, instead focusing on her triumphant performance at the 1994 American Music Awards as the finale. Even without these parts, I Wanna Dance with Somebody brings the audience into Whitney’s life story like never before and is a fantastic spectacle that will delight both die-hard fans and more casual film-goers alike.

Reviewed by Jack Seaton.

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