By: Lana K. Wilson-Combs
If fate is kind, Naomi Ackie's
sensational portrayal as Whitney Houston in the searing biopic, "I Wanna Dance with Somebody,"
should catapult her career. Ackie is no stranger to the big and small screen.
The 30-year-old British actress made her television debut in "Doctor Who" (2015) and went on to star in the dark dramady TV series "The End of the F***ing World" and "Master of None." Ackie is perhaps best known for her role as Jannah in 2019's "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker."
However, what Ackie delivers in "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" is simply extraordinary. The only thing she doesn't do in the film is actually sing. Then again, who could possibly duplicate Houston's magnificent voice? If that person existed, you better believe Clive Davis or Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis would have already signed them to their label.
Even so, Ackie impressively lip-synchs to Houston’s vocals. It doesn't take long before you are convinced that Ackie is indeed Whitney Houston.
"I Wanna Dance with Somebody," from director Kasi Lemmons ("Women of the Movement"), isn't just a Whitney Houston greatest hits movie. Although, the music is there and a reminder of what a talent Houston was especially when Lemmons recreates that stunning Super Bowl national anthem moment along with videos/songs of "How Will I Know" and "It's Not Right but It's Okay" along with Houston's star turn at the 1994 American Music Awards.
The film is bold, dramatic and showcases Houston's meteoric rise to stardom and her tragic fall without glossing over all the messiness and entanglements along the way. Kudos to Lemmons for that.
Not only does Ackie stand out in the film, but the entire supporting cast is great too. Starting with Arista Records mogul Clive Davis who is played to perfection by Stanley Tucci (TV's "Inside Man"). Maybe we can finally get Tucci in the Awards conversation now after this performance. Wearing that wig should count for something.
All it took for Davis to sign Houston was him hearing her sing as the opening act for her mother Cissy (Tamara Tunie, "A Journal for Jordan") at Sweetwater's a local club in New York City. “I think I might have just heard the greatest voice of a generation,” Davis says without hesitation.
That's because Houston had a great head start as a singer. Her mother Cissy was a member of the group The Sweet Inspirations and she schooled her daughter on enunciating her words, breathing techniques, and singing from her heart and soul. Clearly, Houston was a quick study.
The relationship Davis and Houston formed comes across as genuine and heartwarming in the film. Davis, gives Houston ample room to learn, grow and become a musical legend. He initially vows not to interfere in Houston's personal life which included a romantic relationship with her girlfriend Robyn Crawford (an excellent Nafessa Williams, "Black and Blue" and TV's "Black Lightning"). Robyn also became Houston's assistant much to the dismay of her strict and money loving father, John (a terrific Clarke Peters, "Da 5 Bloods" and "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri").
Houston's father insisted she maintains a "positive image and brand." He wanted her to be seen in public only with men and wanted her to push Robyn aside. Even when Houston tried that route and met and eventually married singer Bobby Brown (an exceptional Ashton Sanders, "Judas and the Black Messiah" and TV's "Wu-Tang: An American Saga"), her new life with their daughter Bobbi Kristina (played by Bailee Lopes and Danielle Singleton) soon begins to spiral out of control.
The reason? Mainly her addiction to crack cocaine. Actually, there were a number of issues surrounding Houston that made her an emotional wreck and had a significant impact on her career.
For the legion of fans who love her music--and I count myself among them--it's still hard to accept that such a bright talent dubbed, "The Voice" is gone. Houston died February 11, 2012, from an accidental bathtub drowning at a Beverly Hills hotel. She was 48 years old and remains one of the bestselling music artists of all time.
With "I Wanna Dance with Somebody," director Kasi Lemmons and screenwriter Anthony McCarten
("The Two Popes") capture Houston's tumultuous life story with respect and panache. This is a stunning and superb movie. I loved it.
Be sure to catch my N2Entertainment.net movie talk segment on the Kitty O'Neal Show Fridays now at 5:17 p.m. and 6:47 p.m. on radio station KFBK 93.1 FM and 1530 AM.
Look At This Trailer For "I WANNA DANCE WITH SOMEBODY"
Lana K. Wilson-Combs is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), The American Film Institute (AFI), and a Nominating Committee Voting Member for the NAACP Image Awards.