Singing about dancing (CREDIT: Emily Aragones/TriStar Pictures)

Starring: Naomi Ackie, Stanley Tucci, Nafessa Williams, Ashton Sanders, Tamara Tunie, Clarke Peters

Director: Kasi Lemmons

Running Time: 146 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Dramatized Real-Life Drug Addiction

Release Date: December 23, 2022 (Theaters)

What’s It About?: She’s been called the greatest voice of her generation. To make it even more elemental, her nickname was simply “The Voice.” Maybe this movie about her should have been called The Voice. Sure, there’s also a popular reality competition show by that name, but wouldn’t it have been the most aptly brazen decision? Instead, I Wanna Dance with Somebody opted for the typical musical biopic convention of using one of the artist’s most popular songs as the title.

I’m talking about Whitney Houston, of course. And if you’ve been paying attention at all to popular music for the last 40 years, then you surely already know the whole story. I Wanna Dance with Somebody covers the whole shebang, with every triumph and tragedy on full widescreen display.

What Made an Impression?: I Wanna Dance with Somebody has absolutely no intention of reinventing the biopic playbook. It starts with Houston’s origin story and ends with her untimely passing, covering every career highlight in between. With all the drama inherent to her story, this box-checking approach is certainly hard to resist. But also, her story has already been told plenty of times in high-profile formats, so a biopic is hardly necessary. Nevertheless, I Wanna Dance with Somebody manages to distinguish itself in a couple of ways.

First of all, Kasi Lemmons is a wonderful director of emotions. She corrals every feeling, whether big or subtle, exactly where they’re supposed to be. And there’s plenty to corral here! It certainly helps that she’s assembled a cast who know exactly where to find the moment. Naomi Ackie summons Whitney’s spirit as fervently as possible, while Stanley Tucci is basically the second coming of her mentor-producer Clive Davis. As Cissy and John Houston, Tamara Tunie and Clarke Peters bring mythological heft to parenting, while Ashton Sanders is an absolute scoundrel as Bobby Brown.

The film’s other distinguishing figure is serving as a corrective to the historical record regarding Houston’s sexuality. Before her marriage to Brown, Whitney shacked up with her longtime assistant and creative director Robyn Crawford, here played with steely loyalty by Nafessa Williams. The real Crawford detailed their relationship in her memoir, but that’s not something you’re likely to have heard in the most mainstream tellings. But for I Wanna Dance with Somebody, there was clearly no way around it, and I for one am grateful for that.

I Wanna Dance with Somebody is Recommended If You Like: Behind the Music, Juicy tell-alls, Scrolling through YouTube for classic live performances

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 #1 Hits