Review Round Up: I Wanna Dance With Somebody

This new film about the life of Whitney Houston is out in cinemas later this month.

The Guardian: *** “It does however deliver the big scenes and big moments, especially her amazing performance of the national anthem at the 1991 Super Bowl. But a boilerplate music biopic like this usually runs in four stages: tough beginnings, success, crisis and redemptive comeback. Whitney’s life can’t give us the last of these and this film averts its gaze from the grim final reality of that hotel room in 2012, preferring to circle back in flashback to the triumph of Whitney’s performance at the 1994 American Music Awards, in which she sang her famous medley of I Loves You Porgy, And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going and I Have Nothing.”

The Times: * “This Whitney Houston biopic, starring the British actress Naomi Ackie, has no interest in interrogating the contradictions in the singer’s life.”

Empire: *** “As the legendary star, Naomi Ackie delivers a commanding performance, channelling every iota of Houston’s mannerisms and magnetism; it’s a career high point for the Star Wars actor. When the film excels — most notably Whitney’s performance of the famous ‘impossible medley’ at the American Music Awards, where she sang ‘I Loves You, Porgy’, ‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’ and ‘I Have Nothing’ — Ackie’s uncanny embodiment reminds you of Houston’s soul-stirring power, and why she was rightly named, by musician Andy Gill, as “the greatest voice of her generation”.”

The Independent: ** “ I Wanna Dance with Somebody strips Houston of her messy, beautiful humanity. All it offers instead is a product to market.”

The Telegraph: *** “Whitney may be hailed rather glibly as, per the endless end credits, “the greatest Voice of her generation” [sic], but her accomplishments are divorced of meaning, even in her own life, beyond formidable technique. We’re hardly missing that voice – it’s thrust well forward in a flagrant sound mix. But where did her soul go?”

Variety: “The movie could have pushed the darkness a notch further, as Whitney spins down in a vicious cycle of splintered ego and self-destruction. “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” is frank enough about her cocaine addiction, but her dissolute final days are staged rather demurely. Yet through it all, we feel the terrible way that she’s pulled in all directions — a tricky thing for a biopic to dramatize, and this one does it thrillingly well.”

IGN.com: “This trend continues for much of its runtime. Issues and complexities are swept under the rug no sooner than they arise, leading to condensed scenes with little conflict to behold. Hurdles like Houston and Crawford being spotted in public briefly arise, as do accusations levied against Houston’s music for not being “Black enough,” but the story ends up unconcerned with these vectors of queer and racial identity beyond mere passing mentions.”

The Wrap.com: “Lemmons’ latest often feels akin to a concert movie in that the majority of the songs performed on screen appear in their full versions, occasionally used as a montage to advance our knowledge of Houston’s private life. But considering that the voice we hear is that of Houston herself, meaning one could watch the original live performances online, the need for including re-creations of these moments from start to finish is puzzling.”

Hollywood Reporter: “The other major asset here is Naomi Ackie’s heartfelt, emotionally raw performance in the title role. While she doesn’t bear close resemblance to Houston, she captures the late singer’s radiance, whether commanding a stage or just kicking back away from the spotlight. The British actress deftly removes the distance separating the troubled star from the audience. She accesses the unpretentious Everywoman — in both the Chaka Khan cover sense and the sense of a relatable Jersey girl who made the necessary adjustments to live with global fame despite never being entirely comfortable with it.”

Radio Times: **** “While the film is conventionally told – compare it to Baz Luhrmann’s eye-catching Elvis – it’s nevertheless a respectful take. Somehow, Lemmons manages to end the film on a high note, which may seem strange given Houston’s tragic demise. It’s quite a feat, but one she just about pulls off, as the film celebrates her generational talent rather than dwell on the darkness. It feels like the right move for a film that truly honours Houston.”

Evening Standard: **** “Ackie is at her absolute best in the fraught scenes with Peters. She’s also electrifyingly raw with the Bambi-eyed Bria Danielle Singleton as Bobbi Kristina, the daughter Houston has with her husband Brown. While you’re watching these segments, there will be tears.”

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