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  • Writer's pictureMatt Conway

I Wanna Dance with Somebody: Review

I Wanna Dance with Somebody Synopsis: Discovered by record executive Clive Davis (Stanley Tucci), Whitney Houston (Naomi Ackie) rises from obscurity to international fame in the 1980s to become one of the greatest singers of her generation.

Famed pop star Whitney Houston receives the Hollywood biopic treatment in I Wanna Dance with Somebody. It's no secret that biopics are well entrenched within the Hollywood zeitgeist, often serving as a familiar staple during award season and as a welcomed pulse of activity for adult-driven dramas on the big screen.

Through the genre's increased popularization, biopics now feature far more complicated connotations. For every worthwhile feature that critically and artistically examines their real-life subject (Steve Jobs, Straight Outta Compton, and Elvis), there are several slapped-together copycats that only exist to profit off the legacy of a renowned figure (All Eyez on Me and Jersey Boys).

Unfortunately, I Wanna Dance with Somebody spirals down the latter trend. This story of an effervescent pop star's rise and fall through fame is reduced to a vapid Wikipedia entry devoid of meaning and perspective.

The cynical studio shallowness is apparent from the film's onset. Oscar-nominated Screenwriter Anthony McCarten has enjoyed a prosperous career as a reliable purveyor of biopic narratives (The Darkest Hour, Theory of Everything, and Bohemian Rhapsody). However, the showering of award recognition and financial success cannot masquerade the inherent emptiness of his work.

Similar to his other Oscar-bait efforts, I Wanna Dance with Somebody is as factory-assembled as a screenplay can get. The film reads as a formless series of bullet-point milestones that are cheaply tied together through various musical performances. McCarten's slapdash focus rarely pays much attention to the intriguing wrinkles of Whitney Houston's life, such as her fractured family or complex romantic relationships. Instead, the singer and her distinctive history are ensnared within a generic Hollywood rise-and-fall story that forgoes any meaningful introspection.

Director Kasi Lemmons's efforts are similarly undernourished. The Harriet director occasionally displays her penchant for tender, character-driven moments, although her skillset is eventually lost in the shuffle amidst her favoring of studio-centric efficiency. Lemmons drives the scattershot narrative forward without being able to develop essential textures onscreen, settling far too often on meaningless montages and showy setpieces. Even for a music biopic, the endless onslaught of concert scenes comes off as a crutch needed to stabilize a dilapidated narrative.

There is something inherently grotesque about lackadaisical biopics like I Wanna Dance with Somebody. The film would not exist without the approval from Houston's estate, but having to garner that support comes at the cost of artistic freedoms. So much of the final product here feels sanitized to support hidden agendas, whether it's the shallow view of her toxic relationship with Bobby Brown or her ongoing struggles with drug usage. The blurred realities of the movie act as a perverse reframing of her identity and come off in genuinely poor taste. I Wanna Dance with Somebody's failures are even more apparent when compared to the 2018 documentary Whitney, which displayed far more nuance in its authentic reflections on the singer's soaring highs and sobering lows.

The great shame in I Wanna Dance with Somebody lies in the flickers of promise buried within its entirely bloated 144-minute runtime. Star Naomi Ackie goes beyond the typical physical transformation of biopic performances to extract an achingly genuine portrayal of Whitney Houston. She and co-stars Stanley Tucci as her caring agent and Nafessa Williams as her loyal confidant Robyn share a genuine rapport onscreen, yet none of the performances have room to breathe across an entirely rudimentary feature.

I Wanna Dance with Somebody showcases the worst contrivances of the biopic genre. It's an impersonal slog that never comes close to conveying the depth of its fascinating subject.

I Wanna Dance with Somebody is now playing in theaters.


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