WHITNEY HOUSTON: I WANNA DANCE WITH SOMEBODY – A Review by Cynthia Flores

 

WHITNEY HOUSTON: I WANNA DANCE WITH SOMEBODY – A Review by Cynthia Flores

Whitney Houston has become the latest musical icon to be the subject of a big-screen biopic. The film gives her fans a chance to peek behind the curtain and try to understand the life of the performer dubbed “The Voice of a Generation.”

The same writer who brought us the hit 2018 film Bohemian Rhapsody brings us the story of Whitney Houston. We start with Whitney (Naomi Ackie) taking the stage at one of her most iconic performances, the 1994 AMAs where she did a medley of songs that most singers would not be able to perform live. Then, we flashback to the beginning when young Whitney was a backup singer for her well-known mother, Cissy Houston (Tamara Tunie). We see the point that the legendary producer Clive Davis (Stanley Tucci) comes into her life and sets her on the path to superstardom. Next, the film takes us through all her ups and downs with her volatile husband, Bobby Brown (Ashton Sanders), and her battle with drugs. 

If you are a hardcore fan, this film has no big surprises. However, it does humanize the iconic performer. While showing her faults, it does not villainize her for them. I have always been a fan of her music. And this film does remind me of what a powerful singer she was.

Speaking of singing, the question most people have about the film is whether or not Naomi Ackie is actually doing the vocalizing as so many other actors have done in biopics. The director has given the answer in print. Only in the first few scenes, in which we see Whitney pushed on stage and expected to sing Greatest Love of All in her mother’s place, do we hear Ackies voice. Houston is supposed to be nervous at the start of her song, so it fits. But once she gets into the moment and loses her nerves, it is a recording of the actual Whitney Houston we are hearing. And for the rest of the film, it is all Whitney remixed for a unique theatrical sound.

Speaking in the press notes for the film Ackie said: “That was the biggest challenge, really,” she explained. “Outside of the little bits of singing that I do in this film, it’s really about looking like the sound is coming out of my mouth. So it was having to have an understanding of how she sang, and really singing at the top of my lungs so that my mouth placement was in the right place, and the vibrato was doing the right thing. And the riffs looked real. So that was the biggest challenge in terms of the singing outside of having to sing in public.” She added, “I can hold a tune, but I’m not a singer. To be a singer takes a certain level of personality in your voice, and I just don’t really have that. So in those moments when I sang her songs, I asked John to crank the music up as loud as it could go – it was rattling off the walls – and I could perform.”

All in all, I liked the directorial style of Kasi Lemmons. You could tell she was a fan of the music and did an excellent job with the script she was given. The main problem I had was the script. Anthony McCarten is a great writer. I loved his earlier films like The Two Popes and, of course, the award-winning Bohemian Rhapsody. However, he seems to have fallen into a formula of sorts where musical biopics are concerned. He starts with an iconic performance, flashes back to the past, and then gives you that performance he started off with. Roll credits. Exactly what he did with Bohemian Rhapsody. It would have been nice for him to try something new. 

I give Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody 3.5 stars. It’s not going to be a classic to add to your library, but it reminds us of Houston’s great talent. 

 

Directed by: Kasi Lemmons

Written by: Anthony McCarten

Rated: PG-13

Selig Rating: 3.5 Stars

Running Time: 2h 26min

Drama / Biography

Release: Wide Release in Theaters only Dec 23rd

Starring: Naomi Ackie, Stanley Tucci, Ashton Sanders, Tamara Tunie, Robyn Crawford, Clarke Peters

 

The Selig Rating Scale:

5 Stars – Excellent movie, well worth the price.

4 Stars – Good movie

3 Stars – OK movie

2 Stars – No need to rush. Save it for a rainy day.

1 Star – Good that I saw it on the big screen but wish I hadn’t paid for it.

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