Ten years after Whitney Houston’s 2012 death, the story of her life is coming to the screen.
While there have been documentaries and TV movies about the music legend, Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody is a big screen biopic starring Naomi Ackie as the Grammy-winning songstress.
The Sony Pictures film opens Dec. 23, and critics are split.
As of Thursday afternoon, the biopic had a mediocre 45 percent score from critics on Rotten Tomatoes. Many praised BAFTA Award-winning actress Ackie for her “sensational performance,” but another complained the film “accomplishes nothing.”
Punch Drunk Critics reviewer Travis Hopson wrote, “By following the rhythms of too-many half-assed biopics, I Wanna Dance with Somebody attempts to be whatever any viewer wants it to be, and thus accomplishes nothing.”
Empire magazine critic Kelechi Ehenulo was equally unimpressed, writing: “In what could have been a definitive tribute to Whitney Houston’s career, surface-level execution means her story is not quite done justice. But Naomi Ackie’s performance shines above everything else.”
Culture Mix critic Carla Hay wrote: “At times, Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody looks more like a cliché checklist of the legendary diva’s high points and low points instead of being an insightful biopic. However, the cast members’ performances, led by a dynamic Naomi Ackie, elevate this uneven movie.”
IndieWire reviewer David Ehrlich added, “Kasi Lemmons’ well-acted but laughably trite Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody is an anonymous portrait of a singular artist — a by-the-numbers Behind the Music episode that needs 146 minutes to say almost nothing about a once-in-a-lifetime voice.”
As Ehrlich noted, the film is directed by Kasi Lemmons, whose credits include Eve’s Bayou, Talk to Me and Harriet. Written by Anthony McCarten (Bohemian Rhapsody), the film is produced by Houston’s sister-in-law Pat Houston and the singer’s music mentor Clive Davis.
Screen Rant critic Brittany Witherspoon said the film doesn’t break new ground, but Ackie’s performance makes it stand out. “For a biopic, I Wanna Dance with Somebody follows the norms of the genre but allows Naomi Ackie to deliver a sensational performance in the process.”
The Hollywood Reporter reviewer David Rooney also had good things to say. “Critics will sniff, as they invariably do, about the familiar conventions of the music biopic. But the spirit of I Wanna Dance With Somebody transcends those conventions far more often than it gets weighed down by them,” Rooney wrote.
Black Girl Nerds reviewer Jamie Broadnax added: “Fans of Whitney Houston will love this film for its music. Her voice is in all of the songs featured in the film… My favorite scene was the world class performance of the ‘Star Spangled Banner,’ performed at the 1991 Super Bowl. I found myself filled with goosebumps and a tear fell from my eye.”
Showbiz 411 critic Roger Friedman wrote: “Kasi Lemmons has made a very triumphant film with a screenplay by Anthony McCarten. I Wanna Dance with Somebody very deftly manages Houston’s skyrocketing career counterpointed by her difficult family life and eventual descent into drugs.”
In addition to Ackie, the cast includes Ashton Sanders as Bobby Brown, Tamara Tunie as Cissy Houston, Nafessa Williams as Robyn Crawford, and Clarke Peters as John Houston.
Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody opens nationwide on Friday, Dec. 23. Watch the trailer for the film below.