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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Mar 18, 2023



BARBRA STREISAND won the Oscar for her very first movie, “Funny Girl”, based on the life of Fanny Brice. 

Diana Ross was nominated as Oscar best actress for her first film, “The Lady Sings the Blues”, based on the life of Billie Holiday. 

Marion Cotillard also won the Oscar for playing Edith Piaf in “La Vie en Rose”. 

We thought “I Wanna Dance with Somebody”, the biopic of Whitney Houston will also do the same for British actress Naomi Ackie but strangely, it was ignored at the Oscars, just like Jennifer Hudson when she did the Aretha Franklin biopic, “Respect”, which the critics did not respect at all.

We didn’t get to see “I Wanna Dance” when it was shown in local theaters, but we finally got to see it now that it’s available on streaming.   

And we now understand why the Oscars ignored it.   

The movie starts in 1983 while Whitney sings in their church choir in New Jersey coached by her mom, Cissy (Tamara Tunie), who is a singer and is very strict with her. 

Whitney then meets Robyn Crawford (Nafessa Williams) and they have a sapphic relationship. 

Arista Records producer Clive Davis (Stanley Tucci) sees Whitney perform “The Greatest Love of All” in the club where she does back up singing for her mom and signs her up. 

She is given her first album and it’s a hit. 

She puts up her own production company managed by her self appointed manager, her own dad, John (Clarke Peters), who frowns on her relationship with Robyn.

Robyn gets jealous when she learns that Whitney slept with Jermaine Jackson (brother of Michael) after recording a song with him. 

She and Whitney eventually break up but they remain good friends. 

Whitney makes her second album and its carrier single, “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” became a blockbuster hit and some folks chide her for not sounding black enough, but Whitney defends herself saying she deserves independence as an artist.  

She then meets Bobby Brown (Ashton Sanders, “Moonlight”) who proposes marriage to her. 

She accepts, but gets mad when she learns he has made another girl pregnant. She eventually forgives him (big mistake) and they have a daughter. 

The movie is actually a formula listing down the highlights of her life and career: her discovery (check), her rise to fame (check), her lesbian relationship (check), meeting her husband to be (check), confronting her overbearing and exploitative father (check), her triumphant singing of the U.S. anthem at Super Bowl (check).

Also included are her successful foray into films with “The Bodyguard” (check), her triumphant performance of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” at an event of South Africa president Nelson Mandela ( check), her descent into drug addiction (check), her going into rehab as forced by her mom (check). 

The movie ends with her doing a medley of “I Loves You” from “Porgy and Bess”, “And I Am Telling You” from “Dreamgirls” and “I Have Nothing” from “The Bodyguard”. 

She was so good that the huge audience gave her a standing ovation. 

After this triumphant sequence, we read in the epilogue that Whitney died at 48 in 2012 due to a drug-related case of drowning in her bathtub.  

Her own daughter, Bobbi, who also went into singing and acting, had the same tragic fate three years later. 

She was found unconscious in a bathtub, went into coma, and passed 6 months later at the age of 22.  

Biopics, done right, can be in-depth narratives of famous personalities that feel alive on screen, as if the viewer is also experiencing the story along with its subject. 

The best ones for us are Bertolucci’s “The Last Emperor”, David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia”, Richard Attenborough’s “Gandhi”, David Fincher’s “The Social Network” (about Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook) and Ron Howard’s “A Beautiful Mind”. 

In fairness to Ms. Ackie, she does a good job of lipsynching Whitney’s songs (unlike Austin Butler who uses his own voice in recording Elvis Presley’s songs), but the real Whitney is prettier as Naomi looks more like the singer-songwriter Brandy. 

Whitney is considered as The Voice of her generation but we’re afraid her biopic is quite shallow as it does not dig deeper into Whitney’s personal and emotional experiences. 

The movie just feels like it’s just a summary retelling the major events in her life.  

Her lesbian romance with Robyn was a major source of controversy then as Robyn is considered a blemish in her image as America’s Black Pop Sweetheart by her family and homophobes. 

But it’s not shown how their relationship became so close. 

Whitney is just shown joking around with her friend, telling her that she’s related to popular singers Dionne Warwick and Aretha Franklin, then they live in together but the relationship is not fully explored. 

Director Kasi Lemmons, who did the biopic of abolitionist Harriet Tubman, just presents events in Whitney’s life in short scenes with dialogue then it switches to the next big musical number. 

It has superficial expositions on why Whitney’s life became so messed up, specially her tumultuous romance with Bobby. 

Whitney’s foray into drug use also lacks depth and not fully explored. 

We just see her smoking MJ, doing cocaine and we then learn how deep she is into it when Clive Davis urges her to go into rehab and she refuses. 

In short, the movie fails to fully explore the complexities of Whitney’s character as an electrifying superstar and as a flawed human being. 

Whitney truly deserves a much better film than this patch work that is watchable but just perfunctorily skims through her personal highs and lows.