I Wanna Dance With Somebody
Dec 28, 2022
Naomi Ackie, Tamara Tunie, Stanley Tucci, Clarke Peters
Biopics can be strange and unpredictable beasts; sometimes wildly inaccurate and unduly sensational, they can present a gross distortion that looks no further than a trashy tabloid headline. But occasionally they become a work of art; a portrayal of real people leading real lives; a story that balances fact against the required level of fiction to carry it on screen. Whitney Houston had a life touched by genius but wrecked by the expectation of others. A unique talent that left us far too soon and now sadly confined to the history books.
I wanna dance with somebody is the title of Whitney's bouncy, chart topping pop anthem from 1985. But the story begins in the gospel drenched atmosphere of church. Whitney Houston (Naomi Ackie) is a prodigious teenager with model looks and an extraordinary voice. The hothouse environment is assured by mother Cissy (Tamara Tunie), herself a legendary session vocalist. Her potential is realised by Clive Davis (Stanley Tucci) who signs her for Arista Records. A wildly successful career follows; three diamond albums, seven consecutive US number 1's and a starring role in the Bodyguard, one of the biggest grossing films of the 90s. However, the duplicitous John Houston (Clarke Peters) soon exploits his position as Whitney's father and manager; while a toxic relationship with singer Bobby Brown (Ashton Sanders) adds to an increasingly troubled life.
Overall, the film is faithful to Whitney's memory without beautifying her image. It seems to bear out much of what is already known about her life. For example, it's entirely upfront about her addiction to drugs and alcohol. The level of exploitation exerted by John Houston is alarming and well documented. Her conflicted sexuality is also explored in detail, particularly her relationship with personal assistant Robyn Crawford. All of which adds little to the sum of human knowledge.
The film's producer is Pat Houston, Whitney's sister-in-law, who is presumably an insider ‘who knew’. However, one always has to take into account an individual perception of events. But it’s still hugely entertaining and represents one of the great icons of popular culture. For those who recall the 80s Whitney was the voice with singular appeal; it rekindles precious memories of the last truly great decade for pop music. English actor Naomi Ackie is excellent and captures Whitney’s mannerisms with great precision. Wisely, she lip-synchs on her biggest hits but add her own vocals where possible. What lingers most strongly is Whitney’s outrageous talent; someone who could turn ordinary songs into classics with a vocal flourish. Beyoncé and Mariah Carey are nothing more than tribute acts trailing in her wake. But how incredibly sad that her life ended in the way it did.