Directed by the talented Kasi Lemmons and written by Anthony McCarten, “Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody” offers a look at Whitney’s journey from a choir girl in New Jersey to one of the most successful recording artists of all time.
Naomi Ackie shines in the lead role, capturing Whitney Houston’s magnetic presence and undeniable charisma. She is joined by a talented supporting cast, including Stanley Tucci, Ashton Sanders, Tamara Tunie, Nafessa Williams, and Clarke Peters, who bring depth and dimension to the story.
The movie’s production began in 2021 on a budget of $45 million, with filming taking place in Massachusetts and New Jersey. The movie was eventually released in the United States on December 23, 2022, by Sony Pictures Releasing.
Upon its release, the movie generated lots of heat from critics who loved the actors’ performances and the musical sequences but criticized the script. Nevertheless, the film offers a fresh, authentic retelling of Whitney’s life and career. Moreover, it avoids the often-exploitative interest in her misfortune. With her family’s approval, the blessing of Pat Houston (her sister-in-law), and the involvement of her mentor and record producer Clive Davis, audiences are treated to an inspiring, emotional journey through Whitney Houston’s life, accompanied by some of her most popular hits.
Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody (2022) Plot Summary & Synopsis
The film begins with an introductory speech by Whitney Houston during her opening performance at the 1994 American Music Awards. Soon after, we are transported back to the early 1980s, when Whitney Houston was a young woman from New Jersey singing in the church choir directed by her mother, Cissy Houston.
Cissy, a professional singer, pushed Whitney (popularly called Nippy by friends and family) to be a better singer, sometimes harshly. However, Whitney soon finds comfort in her close friendship with Robyn Crawford. Eventually, the two women develop a romantic relationship, much to the disappointment of Whitney’s religious mother.
One night, Cissy is set to perform at her usual spot in Sweetwaters. But upon sighting record producer Clive Davis, she feigns a cough and encourages Whitney to perform in her place. Impressed by Whitney’s performance of “The Greatest Love of All,” Davis signs her to Arista Records and books her first professional live performance on The Merv Griffin Show – a show which marks the start of a successful career.
Whitney’s rise to fame is depicted as a rollercoaster ride filled with personal and professional challenges. As her career starts to skyrocket, Whitney decides to launch her own production company, Nippy Inc., which is run by her manager and father, John Houston. Despite being her father, John’s overbearing presence often causes friction, especially when Whitney attempts to make Robyn her creative assistant. John opposes this idea due to their personal relationship, and he suggests that Robyn and Whitney date men, to which Robyn refuses, but Whitney agrees.
Whitney’s collaboration with Jermaine Jackson on the song “If You Say My Eyes Are Beautiful” results in a brief romantic relationship between the two. Unfortunately, Robyn reacts with jealousy, transforming their romantic relationship into a friendship. As time progressed, Whitney’s hit singles, “How Will I Know” and “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me),” took her to international stardom, making her the first black female to be America’s favorite singer.
Despite her success, Whitney is accused of selling out and not sounding “black enough”. At the 1988 Soul Train Music Awards, Whitney faced ridicule when she was announced as a nominee for Best Music Video. In response to this, R&B singer Bobby Brown encourages her, and the two eventually start dating. Subsequently, Bobby proposes to Whitney, despite getting a girl pregnant. Whitney is initially enraged by this, but the couple soon reconciles.
Her career received more widespread critical acclaim in 1991 when she performed the National Anthem at the 25th Super Bowl. As time progresses, she ventures into acting and puts her wedding with Bobby Brown on hold to act in “The Bodyguard.” Despite a miscarriage during filming, she goes on to record a successful cover of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” for the movie’s soundtrack.
Whitney later marries Bobby, and they both have a daughter named Bobbi Kristina. She continues to pursue her career and goes on tour. However, her relationship with Bobby turns tumultuous. In addition to learning that her father, John, had been using her money for expensive gifts, she resorts to using drugs in an attempt to cope with all the stress.
Eventually, her personal life and drug addiction start to affect her voice and public image. Out of concern, Clive urges Whitney to go to rehab, but she refuses. However, after the death of her father, her family calls the police, and she is sent to mandatory rehab. There, she works on getting clean and divorces Bobby.
It is 2009, and Whitney tries to make a comeback with a new album and tour, but it is met with poor reviews due to her failing voice. Four years later, as Whitney prepares for a pre-Grammy ceremony performance in Los Angeles, she sings “Home” to herself in a bittersweet moment right before she drowns.
The movie ends with a flashback to her 1994 American Music Awards performance, reminding us of Whitney’s incredible talent and charisma.
Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody (2022) Review
Speaking in an exclusive interview with “People,” Naomi Ackie explains that her priority was in humanizing Whitney Houston. She is quoted to say, “bringing her into a very human space and treating Whitney with the same compassion we would treat anyone else is really important,” she continues, “because I think when it comes to the idea of celebrities and icons, sometimes we can be more unkind because our expectations of them are so high.”
True to her words, Naomi gave her best shot at capturing the singer’s struggles and portraying her as a celebrity and human being. In addition to this, Kasi’s decision to use remastered versions of Houston’s original vocal sounds was a smart one. However, the film ultimately fails to give a complete and nuanced portrayal of the beloved singer.
Despite the wonderful performances of the cast, and regardless of the very impressive costumes, the movie is let down by its script. It feels rushed and incomplete as it jumps through key moments in Whitney’s career. Fans certainly would have loved it to delve deeper into the personal struggles she faced with her addiction, her relationship with her father, the circumstances surrounding the release of her new album “I Look to You” in August 2009, and her relationship with Robyn Crawford after her marriage to Bobby Brown. However, it was greatly lacking in these aspects.
The final scene, which features a powerful flashback to a high point in Houston’s career, feels like a cliche, although Naomi incredibly performs it.
The True Story behind I Wanna Dance with Somebody (2022) Explained
Born on August 9, 1963, in Newark, New Jersey, to John and Cissy Houston, Whitney’s musical background was deeply rooted in gospel music. Her mother, Cissy, was a well-known gospel singer who later became part of The Sweet Inspirations. Whitney began singing as a backup singer for her mother at the young age of fourteen, leading her to perform a few leads at Manhattan’s Town Hall and attract the attention of producers such as Michael Zager and Paul Jabara.
In 1980, she met Robyn Crawford, and the two became close friends and roommates, with rumors later surfacing about their relationship, which they denied. However, years later, Robyn confirmed that they did have a sexual relationship. Whitney was later discovered by Arista Records in 1983 and signed an international record deal, which led her to make her first appearance on national television on The Merv Griffin Show.
Her first success came with the release of “Hold Me,” a duet with Teddy Pendergrass, with the single “Greatest Love of All” becoming her biggest hit and making her the first woman to earn the distinction of having her album top the Billboard Year-End chart. Despite criticism from some black critics about her music lacking soul, Whitney defended herself, stating that she was proud of her career and the way she approached it.
On January 27, 1991, Whitney performed “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Super Bowl XXV, which led to even more international recognition. A year later, she married R&B singer Bobby Brown, and the two had a daughter named Bobbi Kristina. Despite Bobby’s legal issues, Whitney remained supportive at the expense of her mental health and career.
With increased fame came offers for film features. She landed her first film role in “The Bodyguard,” a film whose soundtrack she recorded.
By the late 1990s and early 2000s, Whitney Houston’s behavior had changed, and she was often late or absent from interviews, events, and rehearsals. Subsequently, there were reports of erratic behavior and rumors of addiction.
In May 2000, Whitney’s friend and executive assistant, Robyn Crawford, resigned from her position, stating that Whitney declined to seek help for her drug use. Two years later, Whitney was involved in a legal dispute with her management company, which was eventually dismissed.
In a bid to make things right after her father’s death, her family reported her drug use, and she was arrested and made to begin rehabilitation. The events which occurred within this period included divorcing her husband and working on staying clean.
In 2009, Whitney gave her first interview in seven years, where she admitted to using drugs with her husband and said that her drug use became heavy after the success of The Bodyguard and the birth of her child. She later embarked on a world tour but received poor reviews and faced disappointment from fans who were unimpressed with her voice and performance.
In 2012, the year of her death, Whitney made her last public performance. She was later found unconscious in a bathtub at the Beverly Hilton on February 11 and was pronounced dead at 3:55 pm. The cause of death was not immediately known, but local police said there were no signs of criminality.
Based on the true story, I Wanna Dance With Somebody is a powerful biographical musical drama that brings the life and career of the legendary American singer to the big screen.
Also, Read: Wolfwalkers  Review – Unleashing the wild side
I Wanna Dance With Somebody (2022) Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes