I Wanna Dance With Somebody Reviews Are In, Here’s What The Critics Think Of The Whitney Houston Biopic

The new Whitney Houston biopic, I Wanna Dance With Somebody, promises a dazzling tribute to the late pop star. Naomi Ackie is making her breakthrough performance as Houston in an earnest and heartfelt performance. Along with Ackie’s casting, the film also cast Moonlight’s Ashton Sanders as Bobby Brown and Stanley Tucci as Clive Davis. In addition, Harriet helmer Kasi Lemmons is the director behind the project, who was determined to approach Houston’s story with grace. The trailer excited audiences with some of the iconic moments the film would showcase, and showed Ackie in action. Now early reviews are out prior to the film’s release on Friday, and the critics have some mixed opinions. 

The Oscars race is already crowded, but I Wanna Dance With Somebody is a music biopic looking to make a last minute splash. The film follows Houston's career throughout major moments of her life, including the release of the titular song, singing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl and making the movie The Bodyguard. The film also touches on some of the complicated elements of her life, like her drug addiction and complex romantic relationships. Critics are split on what to think about the film, because while some are praising the film’s larger-than-life approach, others are tired of the classic biopic format. 

One of the champions of the film is David Rooney from The Hollywood Reporter, who lauded Ackie for her performance of the infamous pop-star. While Ackie didn’t do her own singing in the film, she captured Houston’s essence and what made her so special to her fans. Rooney said: 

The other major asset here is Naomi Ackie’s heartfelt, emotionally raw performance in the title role. While she doesn’t bear close resemblance to Houston, she captures the late singer’s radiance, whether commanding a stage or just kicking back away from the spotlight.

Owen Gleiberman for Variety was also a fan of the film and praised it for transporting an audience into Houston’s world. He thought the film had a lot of heart and was enough to sweep viewers off their feet. He explained:

Yet as you watch, you may realize how much there is to the story you didn’t know, and how transporting it is. “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” is the kind of lavishly impassioned all-stops-out biopic you either give into or you don’t — and if you do, you may find yourself getting so emotional, baby.

The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw also thought I Wanna Dance With Somebody was a solid, watchable and exciting film. While in the full review, he pointed out the problems the film had, he thought the piece as a whole was fulfilling and praised Ackie in the process. He also noted the other creative forces behind the project, saying:

Now here is a music biopic on very traditional lines from screenwriter Anthony McCarten and director Kasi Lemmons: a smoothly watchable and well performed piece of work.

However, not everyone was onboard with the cinematic conventions that this film took in telling Houston’s story. Indiewire’s David Ehrlich thought I Wanna Dance With Somebody was too busy trying to hit all of her life's beats without finding an emotional core. He detailed:

Once her career takes off, the rest of her life is reduced to a diminishingly unsophisticated series of reactions to whatever happened in the previous scene, which doesn’t express Houston’s struggle to be everything to everyone so much as it does this movie’s desperation to be anything to anyone.

Brian Truitt for USA Today also wasn’t too keen on the film, and felt similarly to Ehrlich. He wasn’t distracted by the film’s dazzling musical moments, and was more interested in some of the darker elements of Houston’s history, which he didn’t feel like was properly examined. Truitt explained:

Somebody” runs through episodes in Houston’s personal and professional lives without fleshing out anything nuanced or surprising. Too often, it’s Clive coming to her with an opportunity (like the ambitious “Impossible Medley” or the movie “The Bodyguard” movie with Kevin Costner), she initially balking before saying yes, and then it becoming a thing, rinse, repeat.

Overall, based on critic reviews, fans looking for a dark gritty rendition of Whitney Houston’s story likely won’t be satisfied. However, the film has enough nostalgic musical moments to appeal to fans and offers a career-making performance by Naomi Ackie. There is a lot of Houston’s story to be explored, and you will have to see for yourself if the film delivers.

I Wanna Dance with Somebody will hit theaters on December 23. Also make sure to check out where to watch some of Whitney Houston’s movies if you want to revisit her life and career before the film’s release. For more information on other films hitting theaters and streaming before the New Year, make sure to check out our 2022 movie release schedule.

Caroline Young

Writer, podcaster, CinemaBlend contributor, film and television nerd, enthusiastic person. Hoping to bring undying passion for storytelling to CinemaBlend.