Chronicles the life and career of R&B sensation Whitney Houston.
If there is one thing that we have learnt over the years music biopics can be an interesting slippery slope. Often the films are put together in such away that they are supposed to celebrate an artist’s legacy which means the filmmakers involved need to get permission to make the film from both record labels and often the artist’s own family in order to be able to make it.
That is where the slippery slope begins because what happens if the artist has things in their closet that doesn’t exactly celebrate their legacy? A great example is brand new film I Wanna Dance With Somebody from director Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou). The film itself celebrates the life of the one and only Whitney Houston but it is very obvious while watching the film that the film skips over some of the darker elements of her life.
I Wanna Dance With Somebody chronicles Houston’s (Naomie Ackie – Lady MacBeth) career from when she sang in a Church choir with her mother, Cissy Houston (Tamara Tunie – Flight), through to her being signed by her manager, Clive Davis (Stanley Tucci – The Hunger Games), who stuck by her for her whole career.
The film also shows her sometimes fractured relationship with her father John Houston (Clarke Peters – The Wire) and her tumultuous relationship with her husband Bobby Brown (Ashton Sanders – Moonlight).
It is those latter periods of Houston’s life that this film does not handle well. It the right hands, and treated in the right way I Wanna Dance With Somebody could have become a powerful film that showed just how drug and domestic abuse can ruin the life of even the most talented performer. But here many of the more extreme sides of Houston’s life are either just skimmed over or completely ignored.
Even worse is the fact that often Anthony McCarten’s (The Theory Of Everything) screenplay often feels like that of a Hallmark movie. Key moments such as Houston being told that she needs to ‘break-up’ with her girlfriend, Robyn (Nafessa Williams – Black And Blue), in order to further her career are treated with very little respect and often the audience are not shown the effect that such decisions have on her personally. While the film is supposed to be told from Whitney’s point of view often you never really see how she feels about key moments and instead it feels like the audience is just ‘watching on.’
Some may argue that moments like that have been skimmed over because the family wish for the film to celebrate Houston’s life rather than reveal all the gory details but that doesn’t explain why some of the better moments of her life are also skimmed over. Perhaps the highlight of Houston’s career was starring alongside Kevin Costner in The Bodyguard. In I Wanna Dance With Somebdy we see Houston told that Costner picked her out for the part, provided her with her hit song and one simple scene of her on-set of The Bodyguard but again very little details are explored in full. Surely a competent screenwriter would want to show the moment that Houston met Costner for the first time or even why Costner seemed to be so in awe of her. As you watch more of the film you soon realise that this isn’t just a family just trying to protect a legacy this is the work of a screenwriter that is well and truly out of their depth.
What does save I Wanna Dance With Somebody from being a complete waste of the time are the performances of Naomie Ackie and Stanley Tucci. Ackie shines as Whitney, despite the fact she is slightly benched by having to lip-sync Houston’s music, while Tucci shows that even with a terrible script he can shine. Some of the best moments in this film are scenes between Ackie and Tucci – they certainly feel like the more natural parts of the film.
Given the ups and downs of Houston’s life and career I Wanna Dance With Somebody had the potential of being one of the most powerful films of the year – instead what we get is a film that is pretty video clips of Ackie lip-syncing to Houston’s music with a few Hallmark movie moments in between. As a whole I Wanna Dance With Somebody does a real disservice to the life of Whitney Houston and a touch offensive to anyone that has survived drug or domestic abuse in their lives.