Whitney Houston I Wanna Dance with Somebody
“I will always love you.”
No matter that the bio of Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody is riddled with pop-singer-tragic-bout with drugs, leading to her death because she remains the highest grossing singer of all time, not bad when you consider she keeps the fame fellowship with Barbra, Aretha, and Judy.
From Gospel to R & B, the Jersey-girl Whitney gradually becomes known as “The Voice.” Therein lies a potential rub in the picture as the glamorous Naomi Ackie, an acceptable singer but apparently qualified to lip-synch only to Houston’s transcendent voice. Knowing this before I entered the theater, I was won over within minutes: Ackie’s lip-synching is flawless, the best I have ever seen. Houston’s cool modulation and momentous key changes are here in reality.
I fretted not, for I accepted Ackie as Whitney, looks and voice, in a stunning interpretation of the pop princess turned queen. In a veritable flash of a moment after being discovered at Sweetwater’s, she is shepherded by the estimable Arista Records president Clive Davis (Stanley Tucci in his most urbane role ever) through her career, respectful as he was about what she liked to sing, and uncanny in offering her songs that catapulted her to fame.
When Davis introduces her on The Merv Griffin Show, she stops hearts with “Home” from The Wiz and allows director Kasi Lemmons to set up the operative heart-breaking motif of her longing for a home life that Bobby Brown (Ashton Sanders—remember him from Moonlight?) will never give her.
Whitney’s character arc is well known from “America’s Sweetheart” (an appellation she hated) to drug-addled has-been, not unlike Winehouse and Spears. (Her unconventional love with Robyn Crawford (Nafessa Williams) brought her misery as well). Because so many singers, male and female, fell under the sway of narcotics, it’s possible this biopic has been undersubscribed because of the almost cliched story line.
In addition, Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody downplays the abusive role Bobby Brown played, probably because of his attorneys threatening lawsuits. Although I am uncomfortable with graphic violence on the screen, some of it would have given an authentic edge to her troubled story. As would have scenes depicting her actual encounter with drugs.
This Whitney biopic may soften the effects of her addictions, but it never fails in featuring and interpreting the music that brought wealth and fame. Kudos to Naomi. Not so to the drug overdose that led to her drowning.
Take heart, this story lingers frequently on full songs in her real voice. It can’t get better than that.
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts NPR’s It’s Movie Time and hosts Cinema Classics as well as podcasts Back Talk and Double Take out of WCBE 90.5 FM. Contact him at JohnDeSando52@gmail.com