When Whitney Houston died of a drug-related drowning in 2012 at the age of 48, the search for an explanation became desperate. Revealing memoirs were published by her inner circle. Documentaries – 2017 Whitney: Can I be me? and 2018 Whitney below – functioned more like space probes. A Lifetime series directed by Houston’s Waiting for the exhale Co-star Angela Bassett appeared serious but slight. Most of these positioned Houston as an Icarus falling back to earth, with an oversized focus on her final years of addiction, her dwindling vocal range, and her dominance of the tabloids.
She’s become one of the many cautionary tales floating around on the fringes of pop culture, all at the expense of this wonderful talent that once earned her the nickname “The Voice.” So it’s hard to fault Whitney Houston: I want to dance with someone, the first biopic authorized by her estate, for his attempt to re-center her legacy. It’s “The Voice” – that soaring, velvety soprano – that we hear first, played over its opening titles. They are also the last words we see on screen before the credits roll. But it’s a noble cause, undermined by more cynical, capitalist impulses. The film is just one step in a major corporate overhaul that Houston’s estate partner has seen with management company Primary Wave. There is now Funko POP! Figures, Peloton classes and a range of MAC cosmetics.
I want to dance with someonethen it’s less about truth and artistry and more about control – their intentions are made clear by the hiring of Bohemian Rhapsody Screenwriter Anthony McCarten, who slandered Freddie Mercury’s status as a queer icon to portray the living members of Queen in a more positive light. His handling of Houston is at least more respectful, but his screenplay’s formulaic cradle-to-grave structure plays like a continuous set of biographical details. The film cuts to their performance of the US national anthem at the 1991 Super Bowl, halfway through, only to be distracted by the hideous CGI fighter jets flying overhead. your friendship with bodyguard Co-star Kevin Costner, who first suggested she sing “I Will Always Love You,” is nixed almost entirely to avoid finding a Costner double.
It’s a real waste of the talent at work here in front of and behind the camera. Walthamstow-born Naomi Ackie, best known for her roles in The end of the damn world and Star Wars: The Rise of SkywalkerIdeally, she would have become famous for her role as Houston. Although her own singing voice is largely (and logically) replaced by Houston’s, she clearly does the hard work of digging into the space between direct imitation and evoking something bigger and more symbolic. She plays Houston as someone willing to live in service of her gift. But the film hardly lets her breathe. Director Kasi Lemmons and cinematographer Barry Ackroyd do their best to recreate that emotion in the camerawork, but the tenderness with which it’s framed never feels close enough.
The film begins in 1983 in New Jersey and her discovery by Arista Records founder Clive Davis (Stanley Tucci). Davis, who is the film’s producer, maintains a calm, fatherly presence throughout the film. Houston’s romantic relationship with her longtime creative director Robyn Crawford (Nafessa Williams) is portrayed – as is the singer’s decision to end it because she feared public scrutiny and, as the film suggests, her family’s own homophobic beliefs. But we’ve never heard much from Robyn beyond that point. Most disturbingly, Houston’s allegations that Bobby Brown (Ashton Sanders) was abusive during their marriage are being glossed over. Instead, we’re just taken to the next event, the next line on their Wikipedia page. I want to dance with someone robs Houston of her messy, beautiful humanity. Anything it offers instead is a product for the market.
Dir: Kasi Lemmons. Cast: Naomi Ackie, Stanley Tucci, Nafessa Williams, Tamara Tunie, Ashton Sanders, Clarke Peters. 12A, 144 minutes.
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/reviews/i-wanna-dance-with-somebody-review-biopic-whitney-houston-b2249298.html I Wanna Dance with Somebody Review: The First Authorized Biopic Turns Whitney Houston into a Product