December 21, 2022
Naomi Ackie is excellent in the title role and the film delivers all the singer’s big hits, but it swerves the difficult questions
I Wanna Dance With Somebody review – smooth Whitney Houston biopic
Whitney Houston has already been the subject of two startling and effectively competing documentaries: Nick Broomfield’s Whitney: Can I Be Me? from 2017 and Kevin Macdonald’s Whitney, which was released a year later. Each in its own way was hamstrung by legal issues and family pressure, although Broomfield’s was perhaps the more judicious and insightful. Now here is a music biopic on very traditional lines from screenwriter Anthony McCarten and director Kasi Lemmons: a smoothly watchable and well performed piece of work. It is almost a 144-minute narrative montage, and very avoidant on key issues – seemingly deferring to everyone who is still alive and suing.
British Actor Naomi Ackie is very strong in the role of Houston (though with Whitney’s original singing voice dubbed). Houston was, of course, the glorious pop star who achieved mainstream white-crossover success but was crushed by sellout accusations, overwork, drug addiction, family strife and her volatile relationship with her notorious husband, Bobby Brown, and was tragically denied feelings for her best friend and assistant Robyn Crawford. She was found dead in the bathtub of her LA hotel room in 2012 at just 48 with evidence of cocaine use. Tamara Tunie and Clarke Peters give powerhouse performances as Whitney’s gospel-singer mom Cissy and overbearing dad John; Nafessa Williams is very plausible as Whitney’s loyal but finally heartbreakingly slighted lost love Crawford, and Stanley Tucci scene-stealingly plays avuncular record boss Clive Davis.
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