The Reel Review
Naomi Ackie stars in this biopic about the life and death of Whitney Houston, the greatest singing voice of her generation and the only musical artist to have seven consecutive number-one singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Stanley Tucci co-stars as her music producer/mentor and father figure Clive Davis, who co-produced the film with Houston’s estate.
After the 2017 and 2018 documentaries Whitney: Can I Be Me? and Whitney chronicled the many challenges that Houston faced prior to her 2012 accidental drowning death at age 48, this “late to the party” biopic really had no choice but to lean into those challenges – from Houston being pressured by her family into hiding her romantic same sex relationship with Robyn Crawford, her battles with drug addiction, her tumultuous marriage to a reprehensible Bobby Brown and her equally reprehensible father squandering her fortune.
But amidst all that heartache, writer Anthony McCarten (Bohemian Rhapsody) manages to balance the story with the high points of Houston’s incredible career. British actress Naomi Ackie (Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker) gives a heartfelt performance, transforming even more into Houston’s doppelganger with some incredibly accurate costuming as she lip-syncs to Houston’s iconic vocals.
At nearly two and half hours, Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody is at least 30 minutes too long. Director Kasi Lemmons (Harriet) frustratingly lets the story drag way too often. While admirable in trying to create an accurate portrait of Houston, the film just lacks emotional depth, despite excellent performances by Ackie, Tucci, Nafessa Williams as Robyn Crawford and Tamara Tunie (Law & Order: SVU, As the World Turns) as Houston’s mother, Cissy. Fans will enjoy the musical performances – the pinnacle being Houston’s emotionally stirring performance at the 1991 Super Bowl – but will also feel shortchanged by the film’s unfulfilled potential.
• Whitney Houston’s mother Cissy really did conduct the band during Whitney’s 1983 television debut on The Merv Griffin Show. (You can see her behind the curtain.)
• Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody writer Anthony McCarten has received four Oscar nominations throughout his career – two for Best Adapted Screenplay (The Two Popes, The Theory of Everything) and two for Best Picture (Darkest Hour, The Theory of Everything).
• In her 2019 memoir, A Song For You: My Life with Whitney Houston, Robyn Crawford acknowledges the two had a romantic relationship from 1980-82 which Whitney transitioned into a very close friendship due to pressure from her disapproving family. Crawford ended her involvement with Houston in 2000 when she could no longer protect Houston from her spiraling drug addiction and volatile marriage to Bobby Brown. Today, Crawford is married and has two children with her wife.
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