Wed | May 31, 2023

‘Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ – Jarring yet joyous

Published:Friday | December 30, 2022 | 1:07 AMDamian Levy/Gleaner Writer
Naomi Ackie in Tristar’s ‘Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody’.
Naomi Ackie in Tristar’s ‘Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody’.

For a while now, the music biopic has become a genre unto itself. Iconic figures get their stories told on the big screen, much in the same fashion as others have before. Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody is the latest effort, bringing to cinemas the tumultuous tale of the voice, Whitney Houston.

With such a powerful persona, it boggles the mind that this film is as rote as it is. It takes the checklist approach to some of Houston’s most iconic performances, but with a life with as many twists and turns, there’s so much happening that the film struggles to get to it all.

Then again, I suppose that’s in line with the movie’s statement on Whitney’s life. Naomi Ackie may not resemble the superstar in looks or sound, but she embodies a vulnerability that’s necessary for the film’s peek behind the curtain. Several moments in the film fixate on Whitney Houston’s anxiety away from the public eye, with Ackie bringing a sense of futility to the role.

As the film puts it, despite her enormous success, much of Houston’s life was beset with would-be protectors with selfish intentions. At the same time, Whitney’s character develops into a woman taking back control of her life. The struggle of that transition is played beautifully by Ackie, who manages to portray confidence or caution whenever the script demands it.

Though the narrative is scattered, the film delights in its musical numbers. Ackie may not be a vocalist but her stage presence carries the scenes to bring out the magnetism of a superstar. The film is most interesting when it follows the relationship with Whitney Houston and her producer Clive Davis. Watching the piecemeal construction of the world’s favourite songs, or Whitney’s turn in The Bodyguard were fascinating, with Stanley Tucci providing yet another grounded performance in a seemingly effortless manner.

The film makes a point to glorify Whitney in her prime, but glosses over the less favourable moments in an obligatory fashion. Bobby Brown in particular gets off tremendously easy, despite Ashton Sanders best efforts at portraying his flaws. In fact, there’s not a dull player in the entire cast, especially when it comes to Nafessa Williams, playing the former lover of Whitney Houston.

Between the performances both musical and otherwise, and the attention given to Whitney’s untold perspective, the movie shines more than it doesn’t. Some aspects of the legend’s life feel underserved, but you’ll no doubt leave the cinema with more than a few Whitney songs in your head. Truly her presence was felt in my cinema which was filled with the sounds of sobbing as the credits rolled.

Rating: Half Price

Damian Levy is a film critic and podcaster for Damian Michael Movies.