Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Blu-ray Review)

Whitney Houston lived an entire life in the public eye.  From her early days as a background singer and model, to TV guest actress and finally singing superstar and leading lady, Whitney never really shed the pre-destined image of herself.  She was a chameleon, working through each circle, code switching along the way.  This drew sharp criticism from the peanut gallery and often caused her to publicly act out when she grew tired of putting on the brave face of America’s Sweetheart. Kasi Lemmons, Naomi Ackie, The Estate of Whitney Houston, Anthony McCarten, and Clive Davis among a huge number of others came together to create a definitive film portrait of the decade long gone Whitney, and for the sum of its parts, it feels a little flat.  I go in depth below on Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody and you can click the paid link at the end if you want to get your own copy of the recently released Blu-ray.


From New Jersey choir girl to one of the best-selling and most awarded recording artists of all time, audiences are taken on an inspirational, poignant—and so emotional—journey through Houston’s trailblazing life and career, with show-stopping performances and a soundtrack of the icon’s most beloved hits as you’ve never heard them before. Don’t you wanna dance?

In 1983, a 19-year-old Whitney Elizabeth Houston (Naomi Ackie, transcendent as the iconic singer) is singing in the choir. Quite defiantly, Whitney is doing runs, ad-libbing, and performing, rather than just leading the choir, and blending in.  This bothers her mother Cissy (Tamara Tunie) who insists she get right and do it the way she was taught.  Moving from church to a spring day outside, Whitney meets Robyn (Nafessa Williams), whom she takes an immediate liking to and flirtation with.  The pair quickly become involved intimately and against her parents’ wishes, seemingly overnight, Whitney moves in with Robyn.

Flash forward to later in the year, Whitney is preparing to perform background for her mother at a club when Clive Davis (Stanley Tucci) and Gerry Goffin come in to see the show.  Faking a lost voice, Cissy allows Whitney to take the stage and wow the whole club with a thunderous performance of The Greatest Love Of All.  It’s an electrifying moment that rings true to the actual story.  From there, Whitney signs a record deal with Davis’s Arista Records and begins assembling songs with him for her debut album.  This is a long process, lasting more than a year, but in the film, it goes by in less than 5 minutes.  The pair, knowing Whitney isn’t a writer, look for demos that feel good to Houston and she decides based on the feeling.  “I love big songs…” she says, and the two go through tape after tape looking for the right sound.

The first 45 minutes of I Wanna Dance With Somebody fly by.  There seems to be a lot of story or life events missing. As a lifelong fan I noticed several things missing. There is no mention of Houston’s modelling career, TV appearances, or background singing jobs. There is no mention of 4 of Houston’s albums, a notable concert celebrating the return of war heroes from the Gulf war, or 4 of the 5 films that Houston starred in in her lifetime. There are humongous pieces of life and career missing in this film.  This, for this reviewer anyway, is a fatal flaw.  Those of you reading this may say that there isn’t enough time in the film to talk about so much of her life. The issue is, that where there could’ve been more told in the film, there is concert footage, TV interviews and other things we’ve seen or could see on YouTube.

The question now lies within the minds of the filmmakers and Whitney’s family.  Why are they hiding so much of what we know? Why are they sugarcoating her obviously loving relationship with Robyn Crawford (herself a consultant on the film, no doubt she wondered how they could tell the story she knows…)? Why are they glossing over the nearly life-long drug use that Whitney documented on the 2009 Oprah Winfrey interview? Why are they covering up the volatile marriage to Bobby Brown here too? Their issues are summarized in two very lightweight shouting matches – Far less than we’ve been told before. Houston never shied away from her controversies, sober or off the wagon, so why does the movie choose to do so? These questions are never answered as we are asked to go on a greatest hits tour with Whitney. Well, some of them anyway.

Flawed and empty as the story of the film ends up being, Naomi Ackie is the epitome of embodiment.  From her hushed Whitney speech pattern to her own beautiful voice melding with Houston’s own, she really studied the artist, and it shows.  Nafessa Williams also does great work here as Robyn, and the pair give a natural loving chemistry, showing the most natural romance in the entire film.  Tamara Tunie and Stanley Tucci as Cissy and Clive Davis respectively, are also doing great work, making you forget you’re watching actors, which is saying a lot because of how slip-shod the movie was written.  A good chunk of the responsibility for the lack of material must be Anthony McCarten. He wrote Bohemian Rhapsody in much the same way, and while that story at least feels a little better told, it too was missing a bit of meat from the real-life stories.  The same can be said here, with even more covered up than Bohemian Rhapsody. The other people that would have a hand in covering up so much of Whitney’s life would be Cissy Houston, wanting her daughter to be remembered in a positive light. Clive Davis could be in that same mindset, but something tells me he wouldn’t want things to be as saccharine sweet as they’re played on screen.

In the end, Whitney Houston – I Wanna Dance with Somebody, is another missed opportunity of a music biopic.  There are often good examples, not shying away from some of the harder truths of the life of an entertainer. Watching this, I kept being reminded of What’s Love Got To Do With It, which 30 years ago refused to shy away from the harsh truths of Tina Turner’s relationship to Ike Turner and her career up to the mid 80’s.  That film was shocking, thought-provoking, and incredible.  It wasn’t filmed as an “easy watch” and that makes it one that stands as a standard in rock film representation.  Rocketman, told as a musical, had more teeth than this film. It was able to represent Elton John’s career, life, downfall, and resurgence without a shred of sweetness keeping details back. Even more recently, Jennifer Hudson’s embodiment of Aretha Franklin for Respect was more engaging. That film looked at a period of Franklin’s career, didn’t talk about the expanse beyond the 70’s and closed just as she was embarking on her next phase.

I think that maybe I Wanna Dance With Somebody could’ve worked better told as a period of her career, or if the filmmakers wanted to do a deep dive, maybe make a limited series or a movie for a streaming service, so the limits of time don’t have to apply. For me, this movie deserves a do-over. Kasi Lemmons did what she could with her constraints, but I know in my heart she wanted to do more. The same can be said for Naomi Ackie, who is incredible here. I only hope that people going into this film are more forgiving than me, because for me personally, this film is ultimately a letdown.  The more I even write about it, the less I enjoy the film.  One only hopes there can be some sort of way to revisit the film or add to it somehow.  Whitney truly deserves better than this.


Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: HD (1080p)

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1

Layers: BD-66

Clarity/Detail I Wanna Dance With Somebody may not have knocked my socks off as a whole film, but Kasi Lemmons has put in the work to create a densely framed, full bodied and supple viewing experience.  The whole film is crystal clear and was obviously filmed at a higher resolution than HD.  There is a very clean look throughout and some gorgeous set pieces are highlighted by the clarity in the film as well.

Depth: Depth department is also very solid.  Nothing looks noisy or out of place and there are no moments where anything looks washed out or blurry.

Black Levels: Despite being an HD release, the black levels here are the kind us 4K enthusiasts dream of. Nice, dark, deep and inky. Not a greyed black to be found.

Color Reproduction: The 80’s color palette for much of the film looks just as it did back then.  We always highlight the neon color status that is synonymous with the decade, but in truth, the colors were often flat, drab and autumn in tone.  The same is said for many moments, and then there are the other more flashier looks and costuming that pop off the screen.  The wedding gown worn by Whitney when she marries Bobby Brown is bright and brilliant and the gown she wears in the final singing sequence is full of sequins and it just sparkles while contrasting with the dark color of the actual piece.  Gorgeous.

Flesh Tones: Everyone in the film has a great natural look. Lighting and makeup are complimentary, and nothing looks out of the ordinary. Detail on faces is evident, especially in moments where characters go makeup free.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean.


Audio Format(s): English, French (Canada) and Spanish DTS-HD MA 5.1

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French

Dynamics: I Wanna Dance With Somebody has a soundtrack that was obviously downmixed from an immersive mix.  Dynamically speaking, everything is in its right place.  The music sounds fantastic, and scenes where Ackie’s voice blends with Houston’s are nearly flawless.  The audio sync is also flawless with it feeling as if the vocals really are all coming from Ackie.  Surrounds and the like are full bodied and the center channel is pitch perfect as well.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension:  The music here dates from 1980-2009, and it all sounds fantastic.  The backing tracks have a nice heft and everything else that involves a subwoofer really leans in deep.

Surround Sound Presentation: Crowds of fans, choirs, orchestras, photo flashes and so much more come from the surrounds.  As I said before there was no doubt an Atmos mix made for this film, and one hopes that it was included here.  Without those other channels it almost feels like a missed opportunity.

Dialogue Reproduction: Dialogue is perfect.


Extras for Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody are the typical type you see for a film like this.  First, you get a feature “Whitney’s Jukebox” that bounces you to whatever musical sequence you may want to see.  Next, you get 7:44 of non-essential deleted scenes – admittedly, I was hoping some more of the story I was hoping to see would be there; it wasn’t. and you also get the following:

  • Moments of an Icon: Covers the many musical moments of the artist, and how each one was created to resemble to real life counterpart to the exact note.
  • Becoming Whitney: Discusses the transformation made by the radiant Naomi Ackie in the film. If you decide to see the movie, she really is the reason to see it.  She is amazing, and this short feature shines a lot of light on her.
  • The Personal Touch: The people who were in Whitney’s life who are also involved in the film come together to discuss the film, their love of Whitney and how they hope the legacy moves further with this film in the world.

You also get a nice shiny slipcover and digital code!


Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody (it’s a long garish title isn’t it?) is something.  It does not tell the story true Whitney fans are looking for.  It sugarcoats the harder or more personal times, in favor of what is equivalent to a greatest hits album.  If you want to see some beautifully filmed re-enactments, and a solid feature turn from Naomi Ackie, check this out.  I can’t help but be disappointed by being distracted by what might have been.  I know I am not alone in my feelings, and some will have a more nostalgic or positive reaction to the film.  For what it is, the film is fine.  But what’s not fine is that there is really so much missing from the true story of a global music icon, who is sorely missed now, and had a huge life lived and not covered here.  I guess we will never really know everything, and maybe that’s the way it’s meant to be… but still… that “might have been…” Here’s hoping we get something more in the future… for now, we are left with another incomplete portrait of an entertainer that many, including myself, loved tremendously.

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