Friday Film Review | "I Wanna Dance with Somebody"
There have been many attempts at capturing the rise and fall of the magnificent superstar Whitney Houston since her tragic death in 2012, through documentaries and biopics. But it is Kasi Lemmons’ film, “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” that manages to do it all.
Calling all Whitney Houston fans, run, don’t walk, to see the incredible performance by English actress Naomi Ackie who portrays Houston from her teenage years to her death. She performs her greatest hits (although it’s Houston’s voice you hear) while scenes from her life play out in montage form. These tapestry of images, while Houston’s voice is belting out the impossible notes that made her famous, made me tingle from head to toe.
I’m a sucker for stardust.
This film helped me appreciate that Houston, who has sold over 200 million records worldwide, making her one of the best-selling artists in history, was never fully appreciated for who she was as an artist and a person. Posthumously and through this film, I finally get it -- and I feel a little guilty about that.
The story begins in 1983 New Jersey with Ackie as the teenage Houston as the star of her church gospel choir and background vocalist to her discerning mama, Cissy (Tamara Tunie).
Houston meets and falls in love with a young woman, Robyn Crawford (Nafessa Williams) and moves in with her. They have a romantic relationship that lasts for years until Houston’s father, the untrustworthy John (Clarke Peters) tells Whitney that she needs to date men if she’s going to be famous. Plus, it’s a sin to be gay.
The two agree on a platonic best friendship, after a dramatic scene where many household items are broken by Crawford, that would last throughout most of Houston’s career. Crawford became Houston’s creative director and had a large presence in her life as the only confidant that she could totally trust.
Stanly Tucci plays record executive Clive Davis to absolute perfection. Davis was the person who discovered Houston and built her career from a scrappy, talented beauty to a worldwide sensation. His calm and effortless gift for recognizing talent is wonderful to watch. The early scenes where he plays Houston songs on cassette tapes to find the perfect fit for her to record were juicy and fun.
Those were the good days.
Enter Bobby Brown played by Ashton Sanders. Their tumultuous drug fueled relationship was played out on the covers of tabloids. Watching it behind the scenes, in this film, hurt. He saw her as a product not a person and while she tells him her drug addiction isn’t his fault, as she ends the relationship, he certainly didn’t help.
I won’t give away the ending, although we all know how Houston’s life ends. Suffice it to say, the performance, which was a medley, was one of her most famous and will make your jaw drop.
Behind it all, Houston’s tragic story has so many tiers: it’s a classic story about show biz pariahs, families bilking their famous children, stars turning to drugs and alcohol, feeling used and abused.
In the end it’s the story of a woman, a mother, a sister and a friend who seemingly didn’t stand a chance against the forces clawing away at her soul. Long may she live in our hearts.