Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody – Big Movies Aren’t Always Great Movies

Six Grammys. Two Emmys. 16 Billboard Music awards. 28 Guinness World records ? and a string of other awards that would fill pages.  When you are considered the greatest voice of your generation, you deserve a big movie.  

This is a big movie.  

Whitney Houston?s short, tragic, yet magical life is brought to reverential remembrance by Anthony McCarten, the same screenwriter who brought Freddie Mercury so beautifully back to life in Bohemian Rhapsody.  Houston?s spinto soprano voice was what brought her fame.  Yet she was also beautiful and a talented actress and producer. Her recording for her debut film The Bodyguard is still the bestselling soundtrack album of all time. To lose a talent like this at 48, and under such tragic circumstances begs for a telling of her life.    

But a big movie doesn?t necessarily guarantee a great movie.  By deciding to chronicle every detail of Houston?s life, we are never allowed to linger over scenes or to ponder profound moments as they occur. So, even at an exhausting 2 ?  hours, we still don?t feel that we?ve fully met this woman.  There is a sense of checking off bullet points ? ?first this happened, then this, now this, costume change, costume change, costume change. We?ve mentioned everything now.  The end?.  In some ways, it is an understandable choice to try to fit each part of her life into this movie. Knowing that fans will want to hear every hit of Houston?s career makes it difficult to decide if this is a life story, or a greatest hits countdown.

This is no fault of the actors, however.  Across the board the acting in this film is superb. English actress Naomi Ackie (Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker) brings a beautiful vulnerability to her portrayal of Whitney Houston. From her early days as a shy teen singing in a church choir, to her exuberant over the top rendition of the Star Spangled Banner at the 1991 Superbowl, Ackie nails it.  Rather than choose a singer for this role (who could compete with Houston?s spectacular range?), they chose an terrific actor. Although Ackie lip syncs each song, it is not apparent and, at the screening I attended, she had plenty of accompaniment. Every song was either hummed or sung along to, often with applause at the end. This might not be a great movie, but it will be a well-loved one.

High profile actors Tamara Tunie as Houston?s Grammy winning mother Cissy; Stanley Tucci as her sympathetic father-like agent; Ashton Sander as Bobby Brown, and Clarke Peters as her overbearing father round out the cast and all give worthy depictions of these well known figures in Houston?s life. No one is portrayed as a villian, even those who harmed Houston with their greed and introduction into the world of drugs.   

Nafessa Williams is particularly compelling as Robyn Crawford, Houston?s best friend, early lesbian lover, and sometime manager. This is a large role in the movie and we see how their relationship ebbed and flowed over time.  She was an anchor for Houston, and is also portrayed sympathically.  This is probably the most fleshed out  relationship in the movie.  We don?t feel like we?re been rushed through scenes, as is the case with the other people in Houston?s life.

This is a movie neither to be avoided nor one to run to the theatre to see.  If you are a Whitney Houston fan, you will be happy to see her so beautifully portrayed, to see her evolution as a singer, an actor, and as a human being.  To others who do not know much about Houston, you will get the facts.  To everyone who attends, however, you will feel the sadness of the loss of so great a talent at such an early age, and in such a tragic manner.

I Wanna Dance With Somebody is in theatres on December 23rd, 2022.

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