The first Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody reviews are in, and they appear to be quite mixed. From Harriet director Kasi Lemmons and Bohemian Rhapsody screenwriter Anthony McCarten, the new musical biopic chronicles the life and career of Whitney Houston, taking its title from the American pop icon’s 1987 hit song. The film features Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker‘s Naomi Ackie as Whitney Houston, along with Stanley Tucci, Ashton Sanders, Tamara Tunie, Nafessa Williams, and Clarke Peters in supporting roles.


With I Wanna Dance with Somebody‘s release right around the corner, critics are beginning to publish their reviews. At the time of writing, the film is sitting in the low 40% range on Rotten Tomatoes, which is sure to fluctuate. What’s clear is that I Wanna Dance with Somebody‘s reviews are decidedly mixed, with many praising Whitney Houston’s music and Ackie’s performance, while also criticizing just about everything else, such as the narrative and its overall cliché approach. See what the critics are saying below:

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle

You’ll probably enjoy it. And even if you don’t like everything, you’ll probably enjoy arguing with it.

Eric Henderson, Slant Magazine

There are only clichés in this rise-and-fall material, with the sole distinctive wrinkle being the weight given to the rise versus the fall.

K. Austin Collins, Rolling Stone

Ackie helps sell Houston as a singular talent even when it’s not her singing those legendary songs at Mt. Everest-level runs of mezzo-soprano notes.

Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

I Wanna Dance with Somebody ultimately devolves into a boilerplate biopic, a series of increasingly unfortunate events presented with little narrative shape or texture.

Thomas Floyd, Washington Post

Watching the pop songstress’s life story is like listening to a greatest hits album, with just as little narrative coherence.

Matthew Huff, AV Club

Whitney Houston’s songs are as catchy as ever, but Kasi Lemmons’ film succumbs to familiar music biopic pitfalls without adding much to the singer’s legacy.

Kevin Maher, Times (UK)

It’s gobsmackingly awful, and has no interest whatsoever in tackling the fascinating contradictions at the heart of Houston’s success, especially her status as (from McCarten’s script) “the first black all-American white-friendly girl”.

Kelechi Ehenulo, Empire Magazine

In what could have been a definitive tribute to Whitney Houston’s career, surface-level execution means her story is not quite done justice. But Naomi Ackie’s performance shines above everything else.

Charlotte O’Sullivan, London Evening Standard

If Austin Butler’s Elvis is the king of that crop, [Naomi Ackie’s] Whitney is indisputably the queen.

David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

Critics will sniff, as they invariably do, about the familiar conventions of the music biopic. But the spirit of I Wanna Dance With Somebody transcends those conventions far more often than it gets weighed down by them.

Brian Truitt, USA Today

Anthony McCarten wrote this as well as “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a best picture nominee that was anything but, and Houston’s tale ultimately takes the same tack as his Queen biopic: a Wikipedia entry come to middling life on screen.

David Ehrlich, indieWire

The film’s cram-it-all-in approach makes it impossible for “Eve’s Bayou” director Lemmons to assert her usual control, or to anchor even the most tragic moments of Houston’s life with the gravity they deserve.

Peter Bradshaw, Guardian

A smoothly watchable and well performed piece of work.

Owen Gleiberman, Variety

“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.

Related: Elvis’ Tom Hanks Choice Avoids A Hated Music Biopic Mistake

How I Wanna Dance With Somebody Reviews Compare To Recent Musical Biopics

Judging by its rotten rating on the Tomatometer, it wouldn’t be unfair to say that I Wanna Dance with Somebody might fail to live up to the recent trend of critically-acclaimed musical biopics. This even extends to screenwriter McCarten’s previous musical biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, which despite also receiving somewhat mixed reviews, was honored with five Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture. The screenwriter has also penned biopics of Stephen Hawking (The Theory of Everything) and Winston Churchill (Darkest Hour), which were also nominated for Best Picture, so it’s safe to say that I Wanna Dance with Somebody won’t make the cut of McCarten’s greatest hits.

Other than Bohemian Rhapsody, the recent influx of well-received musical biopics includes 2019’s Rocketman and Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis movie, which were both praised for properly honoring their respective musical icons. The Roku Channel’s Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, which was far from a serious musical biopic, still received largely positive reviews for capturing the spirit of its subject. This, however, is where I Wanna Dance with Somebody seems to succeed, while everything from the story to its surface-level execution is where it falls short.

Like Elvis Presley, Whitney Houston carries some considerable name recognition which, despite the middling reviews, could convince audiences to come out to theaters and make I Wanna Dance with Somebody a decent box office hit over the holiday season. Whitney Houston fans surely shouldn’t be discouraged by the negative reviews since capturing the iconic singer’s stage presence seems to be where the biopic thrives. With I Wanna Dance With Somebody releasing in theaters on December 23, audiences will soon be able to see the film and make up their minds for themselves.

More: Did Austin Butler Sing The Songs In Elvis? (It’s Complicated)

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