I Wanna Dance with Somebody is a giddy treat for fans of Whitney Houston’s music. But it is a tribute, not a true biopic.
I Wanna Dance with Somebody Synopsis
“How will I know if he really loves me?” So the chorus goes for one of Whitney Houston’s earliest hits. Sadly, just like her song, Whitney struggled with equivocal love her entire career, first with criticisms about her not being “black enough,” then with her stormy marriage to R&B star Bobby Brown, all the while achieving career heights other performers can only dream of. This emotional biopic by Kasi Lemmons shares the life of “The Voice,” till today, still one of the most awarded artists in music history.
I’ve looked forward to this music biopic since June. More than any other major cinematic release this 2022 year end too.
Why? Just that one reason, of course. I’m a long-time fan of Whitney Houston, all the way since the late 80s. As I wrote in an Electone Facebook group yesterday before heading to the cinema, Whitney is the only artist whose songs I played more than once for grade exams. I also doubt there is any keyboard player from my era who has not played at least one of her songs.
Yup, I’m a huge fan. And so I deeply, emotionally, enjoyed all of the musical bits – was (quietly) singing along to each. But as a movie lover and a movie blogger, I have to admit this is yet another glitzy but ultimately superficial condensation of a legendary artist’s life. In other words, not a true biopic as the description is understood, but more of a emphatic reminder cum tribute.
Let me explain. Like Behind the Candelabra, Bohemian Rhapsody, Elvis, I Wanna Dance with Somebody is anchored by one cinematic performer delivering a stunning impersonation of a beloved (and deceased) musician. Naomi Ackie doesn’t merely capture Whitney Houston’s stage persona, she quite completely delivers the spellbinding sensation of Whiney’s singing – even though she’s mostly lip-syncing. To use the parlance of the movie, Ackie delivered Whitney’s signature big singing, big time.
An almost obsessive determination for recreating iconic performances and famous publicity moments then heightens the believability. These, in turn, are surrounded by the spice that completes the illusion. By the latter, I’m of course referring to the well-known controversies and scandals that hounded The Voice’s career from start to end. Her relationship with her family, the accusations of her music being “too white,” her tempestuous marriage to Bobby Brown, etc.
Sounds like a great biography, doesn’t it? Well, not exactly. Because if you stand apart from the dazzle and examine the story from the viewpoint of someone completely unfamiliar, you’d see what’s lacking. This biopic is like a wiki written ten years ago, a wiki that took the effort to be brief too. Were you to compare it with the numerous write-ups about Whitney Houston from over the years, you’d also realise that quite a lot is missing or skimmed over. For example, there’s a lot more story behind her marriage to Bobby Brown, but much was glossed over. (I’m surprised they didn’t even mention Being Bobby Brown) For most parts of the show, you get that sensation of rush storytelling as the movie struggles to move through the years so quickly.
Rotten Tomatoes quoted the consensus of “…leaves you feeling like you were on stage with Whitney Houston, but didn’t really get to dance with her.” On this, I’m inclined to agree despite enjoying the show. I’ll also add, you spend so much time on the stage with her, you had but glimpses of her backstage. Most of what you glimpsed was also already known to you.
It’s a pity, I think the movie could have shared or examined more. The 80s fanboy in me left the cinema musically satiated but with no new knowledge of his idol. But I suppose this is the way the industry defines music biopics for the moment.
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