Whitney Houston Deserves Better Than Terrible Biopic
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The worst part of I Want To Dance Someone is how it makes you feel as it approaches its endless end. “Please,” you think. “Will Whitney Houston stop singing?”
Boring audiences with Houston’s voice is a serious sin, but that’s exactly what the new biopic, now in theaters, does. During the run time of nearly two and a half hours, I want to dance with someone strive to be a comprehensive document on Houston’s entire career: Her Discovery by Clive Davis. Her meteoric rise. her unparalleled success. her drug use. Her relationship with Robyn Crawford and Bobby Brown. Her return, and her death. It’s a Wikipedia article as a movie, and at some point you just want to stop scrolling.
That’s a shame, because there’s so much to admire.
Naomi Ackie, who plays Houston, is amazing. I can’t remember the last time I saw someone shine like that on screen. She captures Houston’s voice and her style, and adapts them through each stage of the performer’s life. You never feel that Ackie is playing older or younger than her age; she simply lives in Houston all the time. Especially in scenes that feel like they were written for a Lifetime movie (in which there were a terrible thing about Houston), Ackie harnesses the immediate vibrancy and emotion that not only keeps you from cringe, but also stuns you with excellence.
But see I want to dance with someone was, overall, a strange experience. It was a crowd pleaser. It features all of Houston’s most iconic performances. At my screening, people clapped after each song, as if they were watching Houston herself sing. (Ackie lip-syncs impressively to Houston’s voiceover recordings.)
The movie is almost a concert movie, being the fan service it’s so preoccupied with. There’s so much emphasis on meticulously portraying each memorable note, movement, and look, making scenes that supposedly reveal what Houston lost to produce them seem like an afterthought.
Yes, it was emotional to see the film’s descriptions of Houston sing “Homeland” in her debut on Merv Griffin’s talk show, she opened with a capella for “I will always love you” while recording a music video, and her comeback performance above Oprah Winfrey’s Performance. I got chills and tears while imitating her famous voice frame by frame anthem at the Super Bowl. I also watched all of those performances—many times—on YouTube, with Houston actually singing.
Since we are in the digital age and historical footage of key pop culture moments is readily available, movies and TV shows now frequently recreate them accurately. . As if the studios had planned for the inevitable side-by-side comparison that will go viral on Twitter or TikTok. But that becomes unbearable robot. To the third or fourth (or sixteenth) I want to dance with someone doing it with Houston’s performance, it’s exhausting.
The performances last a long time and accurately replicate Houston’s style, especially knowing that you don’t hear Ackie sing live, the experience is almost like watching scissors. In a way, that’s appreciation — it’s an art form and something I love. But at some point, the weirdness turns bizarre. Obviously someone paid a lot of money and spent a lot of time remaking videos that you can watch on YouTube.
More surprising is that the film explores Houston’s private life. I have to say that I didn’t expect the film to delve into Houston’s relationship with Crawford, from friend to lover to manager and vice versa. The final third of the series also tries to deliver what you crave during its run, providing the humanity behind the gossip when it comes to portraying her drug use. These scenes are a great introduction to Ackie, and also the movie’s biggest justification for existence in the first place.
Music biopics aim to provide this level of insight into an artist. We want to learn something about a celebrity we revere, to understand her as a person. To replace, I want to dance with someone unwavering commitment to Houston’s performance reenactment. Music is obviously important, and it’s emotional every time the opening note of one of Houston’s hits hits and you know you’re about to see a performance. You would like to cheer at the end of that Super Bowl moment, and the movie lets you do just that. But it shouldn’t get in the way of adding depth to the character—as it often does.
I’m talking about that because the movie does. It’s too long, and a lot of time is spent on those musical numbers. When the scene played out when Houston performed “I Will Always Love You” for the first time, I thought the movie was over and that it was just part of her career. It turns out that there are still nearly 20 years and more than an hour left in the film’s intended coverage.
There’s something cynical about this bulleted approach to Houston’s life and career, which comes into the spotlight when you learn that the writer, Anthony McCarten, also wrote the screenplay. Bohemian Rhapsody, the biopic of Freddie Mercury. That movie was a huge hit, and Rami Malek credibly won an Oscar for lip-syncing Queen songs.
The film’s critics, I am the first among them, exploited the darkness in Mercury’s life for plot scandal, rather than trying to uncover the real person. Of course, that simplicity helped Bohemian Rhapsody Follow the number structure that anyone will clap at the end. But the portrait of an incredible artist in that film ended up being very superficial. I want to dance with someone suffer in the same way. The film is like the cinematic expression of a producer saying “let’s do it” Bohemian Rhapsody story, but with Whitney.”
Later I want to dance with someone shows Houston’s death, then it recreates Houston’s amazing medley whole at the 1994 American Music Awards. For 10 minutes, Ackie imitated every jaw movement and gesture Houston made while performing her songs. Porgy and Bess, Dream Girls, and Bodyguard. It’s arguably Houston’s greatest live performance, a point the movie mentions many times before we see it at the end.
You want to celebrate Houston’s excellence, so you go with it, even though it’s a lip-sync version of something you can actually do. watch her do right away. But then the film exposes that illusion. As the credits begin, it begins to play actual footage of Houston herself that night. It left me with the biggest question “So what’s the problem?” perception that I had when I watched the movie. The shocking thing is I want to dance with someone never bothered to even ponder that question.
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