Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody review | Naomi Ackie excels as Whitney

Kasi Lemmons directs I Wanna Dance With Somebody with a lack of ambition or vision, but Naomi Ackie nails her part. Read our review.

i wanna dance with somebody


Kasi Lemmons directs I Wanna Dance With Somebody with a frustrating lack of ambition or vision, but Naomi Ackie nails her part as the iconic singer. Read our review.

Biopics, specifically about iconic singers and bands, are a big business in Hollywood and are usually warmly received by the public as well as critics. The Elton John -film Rocketman was a glamorous, glitzy look at the musician’s life, but Bohemian Rhapsody will go down in history as one of the most misguided and downright offensive pieces of filmmaking. 

It was only a matter of time before Hollywood got their claws on Whitney Houston, who tragically died in a drug-related accidental drowning in 2012. Her story was always ripe for the Hollywood treatment; she went from singing in her church, to singing in front of sold-out stadiums, but also battled addiction almost all her life. 

Naomi Ackie plays Whitney throughout her life. We first witness Whitney about to do one of her most famous performances before we go back in time to early 80s New Jersey. Whitney sings backup for her strict mother and dreams of stardom. 

i wanna dance with somebody robin

Credit: Sony Pictures Releasing

Clive Davis (Stanley Tucci) ultimately signs her and Whitney shoots straight to the top of the charts, thanks to her unbelievable voice and charisma. The film covers Whitney’s relationship with best friend/lover Robin (Nafessa Williams) as well as her tumultuous marriage to Bobby Brown (Ashton Sanders). 

I Wanna Dance With Somebody lacks focus. Whitney’s story is simply too big to be told in a single film. Perhaps a tighter angle would have been better; focusing just on her last, disastrous world-tour with references to her past would have allowed for greater insight into the singer’s inner life. 

At nearly 2.5 hours, I Wanna Dance With Somebody still somehow feels rushed. Those hours certainly fly by, just because there’s constantly something happening on screen, but it doesn’t amount to much in the end. Director Kasi Lemmons clearly wants to do right by the late singer, but the film arrives at no conclusions about Whitney’s life or exactly what drove her to such excessive drug use that would ultimately ruin her life. 

Lemmons often hints that Whitney grew up in an unhappy household and her schedule was far too busy to be sustained. Later on, Lemmons and Ackie go to great lengths to show the pressure Whitney was under to perform as well as she used to. These all unfortunately still feel like afterthoughts and the film treats them far too casually. Whitney’s relationship with Robin, much like everything else in the film, is also sanitised. 

whitney houston i wanna dance with somebody

Credit: Sony Pictures Releasing

What completely saves I Wanna Dance With Somebody is a luminous, charismatic performance by Ackie. My biggest takeaway from the film is that I would pay good money to watch Ackie sing live; she’s energetic, full of life and joy, as she’s performing as Whitney. Unfortunately, even the stage sequences are filmed as if this was a very expensive TV movie. 

Ackie is in almost every scene of the film and she truly lights up the screen. There is an attempt to explore her relationships with her parents, Robin, Clive and Bobby but they all feel superficial. Whitney’s mother Cissy goes missing for large parts of the film and her father is turned into a caricaturish, greedy villain. This may be true, but there’s a more fascinating, nuanced film to be found within Whitney’s story. 

Stanley Tucci also lends a lot of warmth and likability as Clive. He’s a calming presence as Whitney grows increasingly erratic. Ashton Sanders is also left with very little work within the script by Bohemian Rhapsody writer Anthony McCarten.

Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody is a frustrating film. It lacks so many crucial elements and Lemmons’ direction feels shallow and results in a rushed, unbalanced film. Naomi Ackie proves she has what it takes to be a star and she certainly has the pipes and emotional depth to be Whitney but the film around her never soars as high as she does. 

Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody is in UK cinemas 26 December. 

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