Whitney Houston was one of the bestselling artists of all time. Nicknamed ‘The Voice’, she rose to fame in the 1980s. Anthony McCarten’s latest release, Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody, directed by Kasi Lemmons, explores the extraordinary life and career of Whitney, all the way from her first single, Hold Me, through her troubled married life to Bobby Brown, finishing with her tragic death in 2012. Hannah Walton-Hughes reviews.
I have always really enjoyed the extensive music by Whitney Houston, from the somber cover of Dolly Parton’s I Will Always Love You, to the upbeat tune of I Wanna Dance With Somebody. Despite being a fan, I was not fully aware of her life story; this film really opened my eyes to the struggles Whitney experienced, and offered insight into the woman behind the voice.
For me, two actors stood out as phenomenal. Firstly, Naomi Ackie as Whitney Houston epitomises the raw talent, personality and emotions of the great singer. After a while, I forgot that I was watching somebody pretending to be Whitney, and felt as though I were watching the real thing. Secondly, my favourite character and actor in the movie, Stanley Tucci as Whitney’s ever-supportive, ever-calm agent, Clive Davis. Tucci brings such a genuine warmth and gentle humour to Davis that balances out Whitney’s ever-increasing erratic temperament, particularly in the latter part of the film.
Ties directly into the pressure of fame shown in Whitney’s life
The profound social issues highlighted by this film are extremely relevant to the time period. An example of this came early on, with Whitney’s gay relationship with Robyn Crawford, her constant friend throughout the film; the blunt realisation by Whitney of the fact that she would never be able to have a family if she continued with this relationship was painful to watch, and indicative of the restrictive time in which the film was set. Robyn’s heartbreak is echoed throughout the film, and was extremely upsetting to watch.
Furthermore, the controlling nature of Whitney’s marriage to Bobby Brown is blindingly obvious to us as viewers, but is something she herself was oblivious to until it was too late. This ties directly into the pressure of fame shown in Whitney’s life, ultimately resulting in her drug addiction. For me, this really emphasises how the way in which attitudes towards people, particularly women, in the limelight despereately need to change.
Whilst racism is not a central aspect of this portrayal, the insensitive comment about Whitney’s music not being ‘Black’ enough, says about as much as we need to hear. Whitney tackles this head on, with a passionate radio interview conveying her anger at the unfair expectations placed on her, simply because of her skin colour.
Shows the ‘princess’ stereotype that she was forced to fit into
In terms of costumes, the film displays great talent. I would be happy to borrow any of Whitney’s dresses (!), and the contrast between this and her tomboy trouses and baggy jumpers at the start of the film, shows the ‘princess’ stereotype that she was forced to fit into by everyone, including her strict and controlling father. Following on from this, I enjoyed wathcing the relationship between Whitney and her mother; whilst her mother was ambitious for her, she never pushed her further than she wanted to go.
One of the only criticisms I have of this film is the slightly excessive screen time dedicated to the full performance of Whitney’s songs. Whilst my feet were tapping, if I had wanted to simply listen to the full song, I would have stayed at home and put the CD on. It felt a bit of a time-filler; just the opening chorus would have been fine with me.
Overall, this is an impressive tribute to an impressive singer. Whitney Hosuton was lost far to soon, and watching the way in which her life unfolded, viewers will be able to pinpoint the factors that eventually led to her tragic death. Nevertheless, ‘The Voice’ will always live on.
Featured image courtesy of Alex Watkin. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image.
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