“I Wanna Dance With Somebody”: A Tribute To Whitney Houston


Elizabeth Ippolito

Directed By: Kasi Lemmons

Starring: Naomi Ackie, Ashton Sanders, and Stanley Tucci

Rating: 4.5/5

Trigger Warning: This article contains a discussion of substance abuse, domestic abuse, depression, and anxiety.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction, SAMHSA National Helpline is available 24/7 free of charge at the number 1-800-662-4357.

Whitney Houston fans, young and old got the Christmas gift of a lifetime this year with “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” being released on December 23, 2023. The film was written by the same writers as “Bohemian Rhapsody” and follows Houston’s life starting from her teenage years, until her tragic death in 2012. Naomi Ackie takes on the lead role of portraying Houston and pulls it off flawlessly. 

“I Wanna Dance With Somebody” focuses on Houston’s music career, relationship with best friend Robin, abusive relationship with Bobby Brown, and her substance addiction. The film did an incredible job of incorporating a hefty amount of Houston’s discography and kept her songs intact for the film by not having Ackie rerecord Houston’s hits. Ackie’s comedic and dramatic range in this film is unmatched by her sly jokes and groundbreaking realness. 

The film’s production design was phenomenal with subtle hints pointing at the year the film is set in. The accuracy of the sets and costuming were nostalgic for fans to see especially in the “How Will I Know” music video scene, her performance of “The Star Spangled Banner”, and her 1994 American Music Awards performance. Besides production design, the sound design was effective as well. With the distorted diegetic sound, fans can truly feel as if they are there in the film with Houston. The only main criticism is that some parts of the film felt a bit fast and some points were skipped, luckily I attended the film with a true Whitney Houston fan (my mother) to help fill in those gaps.

The movie is close to 100% accurate with every major plot point being depicted to a tee. The one point that was written in for dramatic effect was Houston’s heartwarming conversation with a bartender on the day of her death at the Beverly Hills Hilton. The scene was necessary to help the movie end on a high note after seeing so much turmoil before the ending. Lemmons did a great job at keeping the film uplifting and inspiring after watching the abuse Houston faced for years. 

Critics felt that “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” hit a flat note with Rotten Tomatoes giving the film only a 46%. Katie Walsh from the Los Angeles Times claims, “It starts to take on a distinctly ghoulish quality, especially a scene that imagines her frame of mind before her death. It’s a film that ultimately feels less like a celebration and more like further exploitation of the star”. While the film portrayed Houston in a negative light at times with her substance abuse, the film was unapologetically real which is the whole goal of the biopic. Houston died from a drug-related drowning, so her substance addiction wasn’t a secret to the public, and leaving this part of her life out of the film wouldn’t be honest and would revert the whole purpose of the film. 

Houston’s media portrayal has always been an issue. Critics claimed she wasn’t black enough or straight enough to be America’s pop princess, but Houston had always told the public she would be unapologetically herself. With accusations that she doesn’t fit the look she’s been given, Houston once said, “I decided a long time ago never to walk in anyone’s shadow. If I fail, or if I succeed at least I did what I believe”. 

Houston’s legacy will not be forgotten especially with “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” proving to be a timeless film. She will forever be known as the greatest of all time in the pop field and her struggles with addiction don’t take away her achievements. She passed the Beatles with the most number-one hits on a single album. She also passed Michael Jackson in the most Grammy awards won in a single night, and earned the longest reigning single at number one with her smash hit “I Will Always Love You” from the movie “The Bodyguard”.

“I Wanna Dance With Somebody” is the movie to see this holiday season for all music and Whitney Houston fans alike. The film is a classic biopic and fans should make their way to theaters to see it!