Plot: What’s it about?
There’s a generation, likely two, that probably have no idea who Whitney Houston is. Well, I do. Granted, I wasn’t ever a huge fan, but when Houston rose to stardom in the mid 80’s, it was something to behold. This was back in the day when Madonna and Prince were making names for themselves as well. Houston’s debut studio album, simply titled Whitney, put her on the map and had such hit as “Where Do Broken Hearts Go?”, “So Emotional”, “Didn’t We Almost Have it All” and, of course, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” Suffice it to say that with the album selling 25 million copies worldwide, it was safe to say she’d be around for a while. Director Kasi Lemmons (Harriet) has now brought her story to the screen in the vein of Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman. Yes, if you were a rock star in the past few decades odds are that one day you’ll get a movie made about you.
We meet Whitney Houston (Naomi Ackie) along with her overbearing mother (Tamara Tunie) as she’s trying to make it. Some elements of Houston’s personal life are also divulged, like the “more than plutonic” relationship with Robin Crawford (Nafessa Williams) and the desire to keep things under wraps. Once Whitney enters the spotlight, the film goes through her career as if it’s checking items off a list. She sings and national anthem at the Super Bowl, she stars in The Bodyguard, marries Bobby Brown (Ashton Sanders), becomes addicted to drugs and so forth. It’s a litany of career highs and lows (pardon the musical pun). We also meet Clive Davis (Stanley Tucci), who’s responsible for signing her to Arista Records. The list goes on.
Those who have lived the majority of their lives in the public eye are known for certain actions and/or events. This is the case with this movie. It’s not a deep dive into her childhood, rather just a “greatest hits” of her life and career. The film’s saving grace is the performance by Naomi Ackie, similar to Rami Malek’s Oscar-winning turn as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, the film never amounts to more than the sum of its parts. This isn’t a knock on the artist herself, she certainly had an impact on pop culture for over a decade and her untimely death in 2012 wasn’t the way the world wanted to remember her. In the pantheon of musical biopics, this isn’t one of the stronger entries, but if for no other reason than Ackie’s performance – it should be seen.
Video: How’s it look?
At the time of this writing, there is no 4K version of this available, so a Blu-ray will have to suffice. But don’t worry, Sony’s Blu-ray transfers are among the best out there and this 2.39:1 AVC HD encode pulls no punches. Iconic events are faithfully re-created and every audience member in the crowd seems visible (OK, not really, but you get the idea). Colors are bold, bright and beautiful with strong contrast to balance things out. Detail is as we’d expect – off the charts. There was clearly a lot of effort to ensure this was done and filmed right, and the Blu-ray showcases it all in 1080p glory.
Audio: How’s it sound?
I feel it an opportunity missed to not have a Dolby Atmos track present, but hey – what are you gonna do? Instead we’ve got an equally robust DTS HD Master Audio mix that has little time to rest. As we progress through the life and songs of Houston’s career, no punches are pulled. The LFE have something to say as well. Vocals are sharp, crisp and rich. Surrounds are surprisingly active as well. Generally speaking, movies about musicians should and usually do sound good – this is no exception.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Whitney’s Jukebox – Pick a song, any song, and you’ll be magically transported to where it appears in the film.
- Deleted Scenes – Half a dozen are included, but none really add much to the film.
- Behind-the-Scenes Featurettes – A trio of shorter than average features that essentially all follow the same pattern.
- Moments of an Icon – A look at some of the “authentic” portions of the film, but a broader look at the star and the film itself.
- Becoming Whitney – We take a look at this breakout role for Naomi Ackie, what attracted her to the role, the preperations she made for it and so forth.
- The Personal Touch – Some of Whitney’s friends and family add their .02 on the movie and her portrayal.
The Bottom Line
I Wanna Dance With Somebody gets a lot of things right, but it falters in the way the story is told. It’s just a series of events that we all know and remember. Some might appreciate that approach, but I was wanting a bit…more. Sony’s disc is second to none with its audio and video presentation. Extras are a bit slim, but if it’s Whitney you’re after – you’ve arrived.