Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody – The DVDfever Cinema Review – Naomi Ackie

Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody
Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody, or is this just “I Wanna Dance with Somebody”?

It seems like the studio went with the latter originally, then felt that it had to include the singer’s name in the title so people knew this was ‘that Whitney film’ when they approached the box office, as if the image of Naomi Ackie (Star Wars Episode IX: Rise of the Skywalker) in the lead role wasn’t enough of a giveaway.

That said, it doesn’t seem to have mattered, since releasing anything against Avatar: The Way Of Water is going to be a struggle, and in the time since its release (Dec 23rd in the US, and Boxing Day in the UK), it’s only taken $41m worldwide against a $45m budget. Films have to take 2-3 times their budget to at least break even, so this is a massive flop by anyone’s calculations.

Personally, was never a particular fan of her music back in the day, but when I saw the 2017 documentary, Whitney: Can I Be Me, I was fascinated with how her rise and fall played out. After all, how can you be belting out huge hits on stage to thousands of people one moment, then waking up back to the washing up in the kitchen the next morning, and still function straight?

There’s no doubt that Ms Houston had one of the most incredible voices you’ve ever heard, best shown off with her cover version of Dolly Parton’s I Will Always Love You, which went to No.1 in a zillion countries and has sold over 4.5m copies to date in the US alone, making it the second only to Elton John’s 1997 Princess Diana tribute. The song was also the main theme for her 1992 hit movie, The Bodyguard, opposite Kevin Costner. It was far from a great film, but one that women loved the world over, and an acting success she failed to really capitalise upon.

The all-female Waiting to Exhale and rom-com The Preacher’s Wife were hardly going to set the box-office alight, and after a kids TV movie version of Cinderella, that appeared to hit the final nail in the… well…

Quite often, films running over two hours don’t need to. For this one, I didn’t mind the length – given how long Whitney Houston was at the top for, but it does feel like a pedestrian trudge through her life. Whitney starts off outshining everyone in a choir in a 1983 church performance, taking over from her mum, Cissy (Tamara TunieBlack Earth Rising), before meeting Robyn Crawford (Nafessa Williams) – relating her life story to her, chapter and verse, before a scene with her angry parents – including Clarke Peters (The Irregulars), who’s great as her nasty very anti-LGBT and philandering father, John – showing her tumultuous home life, sees Whitney moving into Robyn’s house, their relationship ultimately leading to media speculation that they were more than just friends.

This movie also takes in record producer Clive Davis (Stanley Tucci as Stanley Tucci) starting from her cover of George Benson’s The Greatest Love of All (which, today, still sounds like a mast… anthem), and her entire career until it ends abruptly.

Other random thoughts about this film:

  • When they get to How Will I Know, I like how they recreated part of the music video for this, although it’s an interesting reminder that the media were speculating if she was gay, despite singing, “How will I know if he really loves me?”

  • It’s amusing when she meets Bobby Brown (Ashton Sanders) at an awards show, asking “How old are you?”, to which he replies, “Old enough(!)” – I’ve also used that response in real life.

  • At one point, while both Whitney and Bobby are walking across motorway, he shouts to a care, “We’re walking here!”, so, spoofing Midnight Cowboy‘s Rizzo Razzo, played by Dustin Hoffman, also later spoofed by Michael J Fox in Back to the Future Part II.

  • All songs are performed by Whitney Houston’s voice over the top of Naomi’s lip-syncing, although this film’s actress does get to perform a couple of songs, including one in an early church scene. These includes her Superbowl performance, and her trilogy of songs from 1994, which is shown at the end so they finish on a high note.

  • Occasionally, we see timestamps, such as “1994” for her performance at Whitney: The Concert for a New South Africa, and 2009 in Chicago, towards the end, but it needed a lot more of these. I only knew of rough timescales as I grew up during the ’80s.

  • When we saw clips of the filming of The Bodyguard, any shots of Kevin Costner were on a monitor, so they didn’t have to bring in today’s KC and de-age him. Still, I’m sure I heard at least one woman in the audience lose their wad.

  • The last third mixes the good times with the downfall, and since this is a 12-cert, there’s nothing graphic about depicting her death, instead opting for a caption to confirm this. Oddly, they omit the fact that her daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown, also passed away, and just three years later in 2015, and also found unconscious in a bathtub. While I wouldn’t expect them to go into details, I would’ve thought a mention at the very least?

  • The film blames Whitney’s brothers for introducing her to drugs via a bong, rather than ‘bad-boy’ Bobby Brown doing so, but the allegations have swung both ways over the years. Also, whereas The Silent Twins was an 18-cert for showing some drug-taking, this film gets away with a 12-certificate by not going into too much detail. For example, she’s handed the bong, but is never seen partaking in it, and we’re just led to expect that she does.

  • Similarly, later, she produces a small mirror with what we assume is cocaine on it, and gets ready to take a sniff, but isn’t shown doing so. After that, she’s just occasionally out of it without having been seen taking anything. It just feels like this has already been dumbed down for early evening TV, despite being in the cinema.

Overall, Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody passed almost two-and-a-half hours reasonably fine, but it’s so light in the detail it really requires, as it feels rather like a canter through the ’80s, and then to the rest of her life, instead of a more in-depth study of her career and her life – including going into the alleged child abuse, as it has almost four decades to get through. To go into the actual nitty-gritty would’ve taken a darker turn, made the film a 15-cert (or R-rating in the US), and reduced the already-meagre box office take.

So, in short: It’s not right, but it’s okay…

As an aside, I still have a signed LP of I’m Your Baby Tonight, which I won in a competition on Manchester Radio Station Key 103 in 1990. I wonder how much it would be worth? I did check soon after she passed away, and its value hadn’t really increased.

Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody is in cinemas now, and is available to pre-order on Blu-ray and DVD. Strangely, no soundtrack album is available to buy.

Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody – Official Trailer – Sony Pictures Entertainment

Detailed specs:

Running time: 144 minutes
Release date: December 26th 2022
Studio: Sony Pictures Entertainment
Universal Pictures UK
Format: 2.39:1 (ARRIRAW (4.5K), (Anamorphic Atlas Scope))
Cinema: Cineworld Didsbury
Rating: 5/10

Director: Kasi Lemmons
Producers: Clive Davis, Patricia Houston, Matt Jackson, Jeff Kalligheri, Thad Luckinbill, Trent Luckinbill, Anthony McCarten, Lawrence Mestel, Denis O’Sullivan, Christina Papagjika, Matthew Salloway, Molly Smith
Screenplay: Anthony McCarten
Music: Chanda Dancy

Whitney Houston: Naomi Ackie
Clive Davis: Stanley Tucci
Bobby Brown: Ashton Sanders
Cissy Houston: Tamara Tunie
Robyn Crawford: Nafessa Williams
John Houston: Clarke Peters
Gary Houston: Daniel Washington
Bobbi Kristina (8-11 years old): Bailee Lopes
Bobbi Kristina (16-19 years old): Bria Danielle Singleton
Michael Houston: JaQuan Malik Jones
Pat Houston: Kris Sidberry
Rickey Minor: Dave Heard
James: Kelvin Coffey
Gerry Griffith: Lance A Williams
Superfan: Luke Crory
Pastor: Jeffrey L Brown
Barbara: Andrea Eversley
Policeman (ATL): Devon Coull
Jermaine Jackson: Jaison Hunter
Engineer #1 (LA Studio): Steven DeMarco
Merv Griffin: Paul Held
Anita Baker: Lynn Leger
Al Sharpton: Ernst Berrouet
Video Director (How Will I Know): Paul Taft