Critics Pan 'One-Note' Whitney Houston Biopic

Still, star Naomi Ackie wins praise for a 'magnetic' performance
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 23, 2022 10:30 AM CST

Audiences are loving I Wanna Dance With Somebody, a film tracing Whitney Houston's superstar rise and fall, giving it a 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Not so much critics, whose 48% rating officially falls in the "rotten" category. The film from director Kasi Lemmons (Harriet) and screenwriter Anthony McCarten (Bohemian Rhapsody), following a long line of musician biopics, stars British actor Naomi Ackie as Houston and Stanley Tucci as record producer Clive Davis. Here's what critics are saying:

  • "Despite the film's bloated length, we simply never get enough time with one single event to understand how Whitney's mind worked or why she made certain decisions. There is almost nothing new to learn about her life,” writes Sarah Hagi at the Globe and Mail. Ackie, however, "truly shines … and manages to bring the star’s energy and charisma to life."

  • Chris Hewitt also applauds the "magnetic" Ackie, whose achievement matches that of Renee Zellweger in Judy or Angela Bassett in What's Love Got to Do With It. But he objects to the way Davis, a producer of the film, comes out the hero. He appears to give Houston "complete creative freedom" from the start, "which is definitely not what we were hearing back in the '80s," he writes at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Indeed, the portrayal "is so relentlessly positive that its message boils down to 'Hey, not my fault.'"
  • "Whatever Oscars this movie wins for costumes and hair/makeup, they'll be well-deserved," writes Rafer Guzman at Newsday. But the movie itself doesn't measure up. Ignoring the "deeper story"—as there's no mention of domestic abuse, Ashton Sanders as husband Bobby Brown "makes us almost like him"—the film "prefers to remember [Houston] by her worshipful but reductive nickname—The Voice," delivering "a quick-hit timeline of Houston's life that adds little new information or insight."

  • "Plot points are raised and dismissed so jarringly that it feels as if the movie had been torn to shreds in the edit, with all the connective tissue sitting on the cutting room floor," writes Thomas Floyd at the Washington Post. "It's like listening to the rousing highs of a greatest hits album—with, unfortunately, just as much narrative coherence." The "frustratingly one-note biopic" ends well, however, with Lemmons gracefully capturing "the tragedy of a generational genius undone by her demons," Floyd writes.
(More movie review stories.)

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