“I Wanna Dance With Somebody” is a detailed look at the life of singer Whitney Houston. She was a phenomenal performer and a gifted artist. She had a powerful influence on pop music and on society in general. While some Blacks chided her for sounding too ‘White’, she continued to rack up Number One hits. Her rise, and her eventual fall, was followed by every magazine and tabloid. This movie takes a deeper look at ‘The Voice’…
Whitney Houston (played by Naomi Ackie) came from a Black family of musical artists. At least from her mother, Cissy Houston (played by Tamara Tunie). She was a Grammy-award winning singer herself. Whitney’s father, John Houston (played by Clarke Peters), was a big supporter of Cissy, and then for his daughter.
Whitney sang first in the gospel choir under the guidance of her mother. Cissy was always telling Whitney to sing from her head, from her heart, and from her gut. In other words, know the music, feel the music – and let the music affect you.
Whitney happened to meet up with a slightly older college girl, when Whitney was a high school senior. Her name was Robyn Crawford (played by Nafessa Williams), and she and Whitney became the closest of friends from that point on. One night, when Whitney was singing back-up for her mother’s group – a special guest was in the audience. That guest was famous music producer Clive Davis (played by Stanley Tucci).
Clive hears the powerful singer that is young Whitney Houston. He agrees to take her as a client, so that he can arrange to have her record songs. They collaborate to find songs that are right for her. Her vocal range and her talent are so vast that just about any song will be great when she sings it.
But the two of them find songs that reach out to the listener, and get them emotionally wrapped up in Whitney’s performance. This results in a string of Number One hits, and Whitney is propelled to the top of the charts.
Whitney has her mother and her father as a big part of her personal management. Her close friend, and sometimes girlfriend, Robyn is brought in as Whitney’s artistic adviser and scheduling manager. John Houston objects to Robyn, and he is the one who is controlling the cash.
But Whitney wins out, and Robyn is once again in the mix. But Papa John comes up with another issue – people are starting to talk about Whitney and Robyn as a couple, and she is losing some of her star luster. His suggestion is to go out on dates ‘with some boys’.
One of the ‘boys’ that catches the eye of Whitney Houston is an R ‘n B artist named Bobby Brown (played by Ashton Sanders). He has the aura of danger and the personality of arrogant trouble. Whitney decides she likes to be with this ‘Bad Boy’, and it spices up the celebrity buzz when they are together.
However, Bobby has an issue with drug use, and he is still fooling around with other women. Bobby proposes to Whitney that they need to get married. Oh, and by the way – my ex-girlfriend is pregnant with my child. Yup, he is really living up to his ‘Bad Boy’ reputation.
Whitney decides that music is just too narrow a field. She tells Clive Davis that she also wants to be in the movies. Clive finds a production about to get made, one called “The Bodyguard”. She is not interested in that at all, until she hears that Kevin Costner will star.
Then Whitney is all in. She and Bobby Brown postpone her wedding until the movie is complete. It is smashing success, just the way that all of her projects have gone. But there are changes in the air, and her world is about to change.
Bobby Brown has gotten deeper into drugs, and his actions are more erratic. Whitney is also into the drug scene, at first on a small scale. They have a lovely daughter named Bobbi Krista Brown. But Bobby Brown continues on his free-wheeling drug-infused life. Whitney takes more drugs to cope with her husband’s legal issues and infidelity.
She finally crashes out, and Clive Davis talks her into a stint at a rehab center. Whitney starts to live clean and take control over her life once more. But she finds out that her father John has been using the business that they have set up as his own personal piggy bank. The Bank of Whitney has paid for way too much luxury. She is forced to go out on tour to pay for it all.
Whitney finds that even a few years of hard living with drugs, and with Bobby Brown, have affected her. She no longer has the spark on stage, and her vocal range is failing her. She loses her father when he dies. The only one whom she can rely on is Clive Davis. He still believes in Whitney, but he does not know that she has secretly gotten back into using drugs.
Can Whitney’s star continue to shine brightly? As you probably know, Whitney Houston passed away in 2012. Her big heart was troubled by disease, as her mind was still hazy with drugs. The award shows and the newspapers and the tabloids and the magazines all had big reports on her death. But the world of music would never quite be the same. They had lost a Pop Princess.
“I Wanna Dance With Somebody” gets into the details around the life of Whitney Houston. They had found a great match for her looks in Naomi Ackie. But there is no way to replicate that voice. So that means Naomi has to lip synch to every number that is played. She does great, but it does limit things quite a bit.
The movie gets to be a basic “Whitney Houston’s Greatest Hits” compilation. It touches on the famous music videos that she was in and the various Award show performances. It shows the set that Whitney did in South Africa when Mandela was freed. It even gets a chance to recreate her majestic National Anthem at the Super Bowl. But you never learn that much more about the artist and what drove her.
“I Wanna Dance With Somebody” makes the voice of Whitney Houston come alive again, but the movie on its own does not match the legend.
I Wanna Dance With Somebody
Directed by: Kasi Lemmons
Written by: Anthony McCarten
Starring: Naomi Ackie, Stanley Tucci, Nafessa Williams, Tamara Tunie, Ashton Sanders, Clarke Peters
Cinematography: Barry Ackroyd
Edited by: Daysha Broadway
Music by: Whitney Houston
Distributed by: Sony Pictures Releasing
Release date: December 23, 2022
Length: 146 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13