Review by Adam Donato
From the writer of Bohemian Rhapsody comes another family-friendly biopic about a musical icon that also clearly made plenty of business decisions. Hell, even the studio made a business decision last second to include the artist’s name in the title of the movie — as if it was in question whether this is a real Whitney Houston movie. Plopping into a Christmas slate full of critically acclaimed films, Avatar: The Way of Water is sure to garner the lion’s share of box office, while Puss in Boots will take the rest of the family audience. If Babylon is too outrageous and audiences are already caught up with the Thanksgiving blockbusters, then Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody can have whatever’s left. Is the movie good enough to overcome poor marketing?
Obviously, the music is fantastic. That’s one thing that’s nice about these biopics is at the bare minimum there’s powerful music throughout. The more musical biopics that get made, the better Rocketman looks. Just like Bohemian Rhapsody, this movie doesn’t have the lead do any of the singing, but they wear a pair of false teeth and suddenly their performance is fantastic. Taron Egerton sang all throughout Rocketman and while it’s understandable to not want to compete with Houston’s voice, there is less to enjoy about Naomi Ackie’s performance. Ackie’s highest profile role was Jannah in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in which she was entirely unremarkable, but it’s not her fault the movie is a disaster. She clearly thrives in a leading role as she does a solid job of carrying this movie. Her performance is the only one of note besides Stanley Tucci's, and he is fantastic in everything he does.
Clocking in at just under two and a half hours, it’s clear this needed another editor, or script, or even director. There’s nothing remarkable about the filmmaking in this movie. This feels like the SparkNotes version of her life as there’s no clear through line to the story besides the career of Whitney Houston. None of the supporting characters feel like their story was wrapped up by the end or fleshed out whatsoever. There’s way too much going on in this movie anyways. Is this about her restrictive relationship with her family? Her closeted relationship with her best friend coming into conflict with her marriage to Bobby Brown? The rise of her career with Stanley Tucci? Or is it about the subject of her death and her lifelong struggle with drugs? That’s another thing, why do artists' family and friends want to produce movies about famous artists where their story is covered in bubble wrap? I hope those extra ticket sales for the kids are worth compromising the reality of the story.
People who love Whitney Houston and just want to see this movie for her music and bullet point life story. They won’t care about the technical filmmaking aspects of this movie. They will just be happy to hear the songs and be reminded about a period of history. The runtime may be noticed, but Elvis was ten minutes longer and nobody batted an eye. Houston’s discography and Ackie’s performance are enough to make Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody an enjoyable experience. This should not be an awards contender and will be lost in the shuffle of uninspired and gutless musical biopics.
Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody hits theaters on December 23.