Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody (2022)
The initial signs weren’t promising. Biopic opens with the standard trope of a singer about to give a landmark performance before flashing back to depict her life leading up to this point. A few rudimentary scenes follow, each laying the groundwork for later exploration. Then comes Whitney Houston’s rendition of ‘The Greatest Love of All’. Goosebumps appear on this critic’s arms, a smile spreads across his face and doubts are momentarily suspended… until we return to the story.
Somewhat surprisingly, it almost immediately tackles the subject of the singer’s drug use and sexuality. Yet as stardom beckons, Houston’s minders (read parents) demand she hide these aspects of her life from an adoring public. Successfully promoted as America’s Sweetheart, the pop princess faces backlash from the African American community for being ‘too white’, culminating in her being booed at the 1988 Soul Train Music Awards. Unfortunately, Bobby Brown is there to comfort her.
“You don’t need to be Whitney Houston around me” Brown tells his wife, echoing a sentiment raised repeatedly throughout the film. First coming to prominence in Nick Broomfield’s documentary Whitney: Can I Be Me and later explored in the Lifetime biopic Whitney Houston: A Tragic Love, the sad fact was that although Houston had the voice of an angel, she nevertheless liked to dance with the devil. British actress Naomi Ackie effectively negotiates this dichotomy, ably supported by Tamara Tunie’s strong performance as Cissy Houston and Stanley Tucci’s empathetic portrayal of Clive Davis. Much of the remainder of the cast are reduced to cheering at TV sets or helplessly standing by while Houston destroys herself.
With a screenplay by the ‘Bard of the Biopics’ Andrew McCarten, I Wanna Dance with Somebody sticks a little too close to the formula that served him so well with Bohemian Rhapsody. Apart from the opening trope, there is also the parent’s unacceptance of their child’s sexuality, an enabling partner and a concert for charity in front of a massive stadium audience. Yet whereas Freddie Mercury’s biopic ended with his landmark performance, Houston’s biopic bypasses it to conclude with her final days.
Not to worry. Courtesy of another flashback, the film circles back to the 1994 American Music Awards to prevent it ending on a bum note.
as Whitney Houston
as Bobby Brown
Paul Held as Merv Griffin
Though Houston appears immediately sold on the idea of including Dolly Parton’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ on The Bodyguard’s soundtrack, in reality she needed some convincing…
"When I said to Whitney, 'You're gonna sing ‘I Will Always Love You,' the ground shook. Clive Davis and those guys were going, 'What?!'…I said, 'We're also going to do this a cappella at the beginning. I need it to be a cappella because it shows a measure of how much she digs this guy -- that she sings without music.'"