Given the recent spate of musical biopics-Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocket Man, Respect and Elvis—it’s no surprise that Whitney Houston would receive one too. Considered one of the best R&B vocalists of all time, her glittering rise and tragic fall seems tailor made for the movies. Unfortunately, this formulaic biopic fails to capture much of the dynamic power and personality that made Whitney Houston a star.
Effectively directed by Kasi Lemmons (Harriet), she understands that no one sings better than Whitney and rarely makes star Naomi Ackie try. While its mostly Whitney’s voice we hear singing, the film is well cast. Early scenes show Whitney receiving singing lessons from her strict mother Cissy (Tamara Tunie) and falling in love with her childhood friend Robyn Crawford (Nafessa Williams). Since they spent years denying the relationship its nice to see the film acknowledge it. Its sad too, one wonders how different Whitney’s life would have been, had she been able to acknowledge her sexuality. Finally, a chance to audition for Clive Davis (a well cast Stanley Tucci) results in a contract with Arista Records. Soon, Whitney begins releasing a string of big hits.
The first half is the strongest part of I Wanna Dance with Somebody. Whitney’s early years are effectively portrayed and many of the songs that form her legacy, pepper the soundtrack. The second half prioritizes drama over songs. Houston’s well documented slide into drug addiction and her troubled marriage to R&B singer Bobby Brown fly by with the detail of a Wikipedia entry. In one scene, Whitney and Bobby are arguing, in the next scene she’s doing crack with no explanation. Given the lack of detail here, the film might have better if it ended in 1993, at the height of Whitney’s success with The Bodyguard.
While the script lacks depth, Naomi Ackie looks enough like Whitney and matches her cadences whether speaking or lip synching her songs. More than an imitation, Ackie works hard to provide some of the power the script lacks and shines during the musical performances. With a better script, Naomi Ackie’s performance might have been discussed during award season.
Presented in the 2:39.1 aspect ratio, Sony’s Blu-ray transfer is strong. Colors are bright and bold throughout. Contrast is balanced and dialed in perfectly. Detail is excellent, be it crowd scenes or close ups, this transfer shines. I Wanna Dance with Somebody represents how good a film in 1080p can look.
Regrettably, Dolby Atmos track isn’t available. However, the included DTS HD Master Audio mix is quite robust. Surrounds are very active and LFE shines during musical performances. Vocals are sharp and full throughout. Dare sharp and full throughout. Dialogue is clean, clear and concise.
English, English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles are available.
Along with a digital copy of the film, the following special features are included:
- Whitney’s Jukebox: Pick a song, any song, and you’ll be magically transported to where it appears in the film.
- Deleted Scenes: Six in total but none add anything to the film.
- Behind-the-Scenes Featurettes: A trio of featurettes that are standard EPK material.
- Moments of an Icon
- Becoming Whitney
- The Personal Touch