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‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ Review: Her Lonely Heart Calls

Nobody may sing like Whitney Houston, and Kasi Lemmons, the director of the biopic “I Wanna Dance With Any individual,” solely not often asks her lead, Naomi Ackie, to strive. This can be a jukebox retelling of Houston’s parabola from sweatshirts to sequins, from church choir lady to tabloid fixture, from her teenage romance with Robyn Crawford (Nafessa Williams), the lady who would proceed on as her artistic director, to her unstable marriage to Bobby Brown (Ashton Sanders), who slithers into the film licking his lips like he’s hungry to eat her alive.

These beats are right here. But it surely’s the melodies that matter, these moments when Ackie opens her mouth to channel Houston’s beforehand recorded songs. We’ve heard Houston’s rendition of “I Will At all times Love You” numerous instances, and Lemmons bets, appropriately, that the beloved hit will nonetheless seize us by the guts through the quite forthright montage she pairs with it, photographs of Houston marrying Brown, birthing her daughter Bobbi Kristina and honoring Nelson Mandela beneath a sky full of fireworks.

Ackie doesn’t a lot resemble the famous person, though her carriage is appropriate: eyes closed, head flung again, arms pushing away the air as if to make room for that mezzo-soprano. That the movie sticks to Houston’s surfaces is half excusable. The screenwriter Anthony McCarten appears to seek out that the lady beneath the pop star shell was nonetheless struggling to outline herself on the time of her loss of life on the age of 48. We see her raised to be the mini-me of her mom, the singer Cissy Houston (Tamara Tunie), full with matching haircut, after which handed over to a recording label to be remodeled into America’s Princess, a crown she wore with hesitance, and, later, resentment. (Stanley Tucci performs her pleasant, Fagin-with-a-combover Clive Davis of Arista Data, who additionally produced this movie.) At Houston’s remaining “Oprah” efficiency, recreated right here, she belts an earnest ballad known as, “I Didn’t Know My Personal Power.”

Houston didn’t write her personal materials; she simply sang like she did, courtesy of Cissy’s fastidious teaching. “God provides you a present, you bought to make use of it proper,” Cissy lectures. But, Houston as seen right here can solely say sure or no to different individuals’s concepts of what she ought to sing, put on and do. (A digicam pan suggests, unconvincingly, that Houston considered the movie’s title observe as a love tune to Crawford.) More and more, she chooses opposition. Her successes are shared — and her cash swallowed up by her father (Clarke Peters), who was additionally her supervisor — however her errors are all hers. (Though Lemmons takes care to incorporate a scene during which Houston absolves Brown of her crack habit.)

Houston’s defiance is the film’s try and reply the nice thriller of her profession: why she intentionally broken her voice via smoking and laborious medicine. “It’s like leaving a Stradivarius within the rain!” Davis yelps. The difficulty with a present, the movie decides, is it went undervalued by Houston herself, who assumes she’ll be capable of hit bombastic excessive notes each night time of her poorly reviewed remaining world tour. On this doomed stretch, the digicam creeps so near Ackie you can rely the beads of sweat on her nostril. The smothering is heavy-handed, but apropos for an artist who by no means had the area, or artistic motivation, to totally categorical herself.

I Wanna Dance With Any individual
Rated PG-13 for medicine, cigarettes and swearing. Operating time: 2 hours 26 minutes. In theaters.

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