For lovers of Whitney Houston, this biopic is both a celebration of her triumphs and a bittersweet reminder of her tragedies.
Nicknamed “The Voice”, Whitney Houston was one of the bestselling music artists of all time, with sales of over 200 million records worldwide.
Houston influenced many singers in popular music and was known for her powerful, soulful vocals and vocal improvisation skills. She is the only artist to have had seven consecutive number-one singles on the Billboard Hot 100 and enhanced her popularity upon entering the movie industry. She received numerous accolades throughout her career, including two Emmy Awards, six Grammy Awards, 16 Billboard Music Awards, and 28 Guinness World Records, as well as induction into the Grammy, Rhythm and Blues Music, and Rock and Roll halls of fame. In April 2020, a biopic from the writer of Bohemian Rhapsody was announced.
I Wanna Dance with Somebody follows the rise and fall of Whitney Houston (Naomi Ackie), featuring the artist’s greatest hits and recreations of iconic performances. From her early days singing in the church choir with her mother, Cissy Houston (Tamara Tunie), to her meteoric rise to fame under the guidance of her record producer, Clive Owens (Stanley Tucci), and father-turned-business manager, John Houston (Clarke Peters), to her troubled personal life, marriage to Bobby Brown (Ashton Saunders), closeted relationship with Robyn Crawford (Nafessa Williams) and addiction to drugs.
For lovers of Whitney Houston, I Wanna Dance With Somebody is both a celebration of her triumphs and a bittersweet reminder of her tragedies. Naomi Ackie is absolutely incredible as Houston, capturing not only her physicality as she performs. Yet, still managing to capture her emotional turmoil and descent into addiction. Whilst the film does not spend as much time exploring the later years of Houston’s career, the story does examine Whitney’s early successes and controversies. Despite her success, many complained that her music was not black enough, or white enough, and that she had ‘sold out’. The film shows how Houston proved her critics wrong, with her resounding response being that she does not fit into any boxes. She’s The Voice, a once-in-a-lifetime talent that no one can deny.
McCarten’s screenplay follows all the expected music biopic conventions. We get Whitney’s earlier performances. Her first record deal. A montage covering her rise to the top of the charts. Another montage covering her world tour. But where the film diverts from the formula is in its occasional use of non-linear storytelling. As Whitney remembers her career highs later in life, the movie flashbacks for the audience to experience them. And this is one of the film’s strongest aspects. The viewer gets stunningly restaged and recreated performances from Houston’s career with perfectly reproduced costuming and soaring spine tingling vocals. These moments, especially on the big screen, make this film soar as each sequence reminds audiences of the immeasurable talents of Whitney Houston.
The film goes further than McCarten’s previous music biopic Bohemian Rhapsody in its portrait of Houston’s sexuality, marital struggles, and drug addiction. Whilst Rhapsody sanitised much of Mercury’s indiscretions, this film is honest with depicting Houston’s same-sex relationship with her close friend, Robyn Crawford. It also chronicles her worsening drug addiction and related health problems, and the strain it placed on her marriage to Bobbie Brown. Given the mature themes and issues presented, this biopic targets a discerning audience who remember Houston’s iconic voice. Yet, are aware of the tabloid tragedies that plagued her later life and ultimately factored into her untimely death.
About halfway through the I Wanna Dance With Somebody, Houston quotes Matthew 5:16 saying “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” However, she quotes this verse to defend her desire to perform and bring glory to herself. Whilst there are numerous moments throughout the film, where Houston’s faith roots are referenced, it’s apparent from many moments that this is not a faith lived out in practice.
No one can deny that Whitney had one of the greatest voices, and her mother, early in the film, encourages her to use this God-given gift the way it is meant to be used. The gifts and talents God gives us, are not for our prideful boasting or ego-building. They are for His glory and to point others towards Him. We should seek to use our talents to honour God and serve others.
James 1:17 “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
Article supplied to 96five with thanks to City Bible Forum.
All images: Movie publicity
About the author: Michael Walsh is a Missions Engagement Minister in Sydney, and an avid film fan. His love of film is surpassed only by his love of God, and his desire to make the Gospel known.
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