I Wanna Dance With Somebody doesn’t step up from routine celebrity drama and is all the lesser for it.
Published on May 4, 2023
Rating 2 /5
Soon after Whitney Houston died, Lifetime hopped on making a post-modem bio-drama quickly. It was seen as being in poor taste for shamelessly turning out with watered-down melodrama. One would think that a better Whitney Houston dramatization could happen when enough time had passed. It does not happen here.
Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody arrives as a musical bio-pic so routine and scattershot that it fails to evoke the drama of the celebrity legend or the wonder of her shows. It proceeds down a narrow track depicting Whitney, decently played by Naomi Ackie, as a woman who was discovered. Alongside her friend Robyn Crawford (Nafessa Williams), she performs at a nightclub and is spotted by the inspired record producer Clive Davis (Stanley Tucci). One thing leads to another, and it isn’t long before Whitney sells records and performs at the biggest venues.
The film dices up so much of Whitney’s life into chunks far too small to appreciate her music or plight. When Whitney is singing, it’s a stylish sight and makes you remember why her music touched so many. But biopic autopilot is switched on when the film jumps to its behind-the-scenes moments. One topic that becomes far too glazed over is the issue regarding how Houston’s music was seen as less black for appealing more to white people. It’s an exciting subject that becomes lost as the film speeds into the typical downfalls of a singer who succumbed to exhaustion, toxic relationships, drugs, and her eventual demise.
Despite how quickly the film skips around the key moments of Whitney’s life, the film still ends up being 2.5 hours long. This turns the picture into more of a slogging factory of churning the Whitey Houston story; showcase her singing, showcase some drama, and repeat the process. The problem with this process is that it seems more committed to covering all of Whitney’s career rather than highlighting its legacy or deeper exploring her history. The whole thing comes off with all the excitement of reading through somebody’s Wikipedia article.
This film has a problem that a lot of musical biopics stumble with. It’s a film that wants to cover so much ground but often at the expense of bringing any more profound understanding of the character to light. Many movies like The Dirt and Bohemian Rhapsody have tried this technique, and it always turns out poor, where the only positive praise is for the adaptation of the concert sequences. To the film’s credit, Houston’s many concerts are decently assembled and carry the magical wonderment her music inspired. But all that power of Whitney’s voice seems to overpower every other aspect of her life depicted in this film. It all culminates with an ending that feels less like a tragic end and more like another bullet point for a book report.
I Wanna Dance With Somebody doesn’t step up from routine celebrity drama and is all the lesser for it. The film is only worth watching for Naomi Ackie’s performance, as she does her best with the material provided. But just like a talented singer singing a lackluster song, one can’t help but watch her performance and think she could do better. This type of picture can only be recommended for hardcore Whitney Houston fans and only if they’re willing to overlook how compact and watered down this sluggish movie comes across.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.