Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody parents guide

Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody Parent Guide

At three hours, this movie manages to feel both overlong and strangely rushed.

Overall C+

Theaters: In the 1980's a young Whitney Houston is discovered and rises to superstardom only to struggle with drugs and complicated relationships.

Release date December 22, 2022

Violence B-
Sexual Content B
Profanity C-
Substance Use D

Why is Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody rated PG-13? The MPAA rated Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody PG-13 for strong drug content, some strong language, smoking, and suggestive references

Run Time: 146 minutes

Parent Movie Review

Whitney Houston (Naomi Ackie) was born with two gifts: first, a spectacular voice, and second, a mother (Tamara Tunie) whose own musical career enabled her to train her daughter and give her the exposure necessary to make it in the music industry. But even for a girl with a golden voice, there are no guarantees…

Moviegoers over the age of twenty will be familiar with Whitney Houston’s hit songs and amazing vocal range. Director Kasi Lemmons is clearly fascinated by Ms. Houston and her musical gifts and tries to help audiences understand the artist and enjoy her most iconic performances. She almost pulls it off.

Where I Wanna Dance With Somebody succeeds is in recreating the magic of Whitney Houston’s performances. The filmmakers wisely used Houston’s original vocals – after all, who can reproduce a once-in-a-generation voice? – and managed to find, in Naomi Ackie, an actress who capably lip-synchs the lyrics. The scenes where Houston’s voice soars into the theater are easily the best parts of the movie.

Ms. Lemmons is somewhat less successful in helping us understand Whitney Houston’s inner life. For an overlong film, I Wanna Dance With Somebody feels rushed, with some important issues being short-changed. Houston’s lesbian relationship with Robyn Crawford (Nafessa Williams) starts believably but evolves into a platonic friendship with only minimal discussion. The long-term effects of giving up that relationship are also not explored. Houston’s marriage is equally difficult to understand: it’s never entirely clear why she decides to marry Bobby Brown (Ashton Sanders), a man six years her junior who comes with lots of baggage, including a pregnant ex-girlfriend. Audiences will also wonder why Houston has such a hard time fighting free of her dishonest and manipulative father (Clarke Peters). In fact, the only relationship in the film that makes sense is the one with her mother. Cissy Houston knows exactly what it takes to make it in the music industry, but she never forgets that her daughter is a person with limits and vulnerabilities.

Sadly, Whitney Houston’s vulnerabilities are widely known: her drug use was tabloid fodder for years before her unfortunate death. The film doesn’t gloss over her addictions and Houston is shown getting drunk, smoking marijuana, and using crack. None of this behavior is glamorized and one wrenching scene sees her, stoned and sitting in a walk-in closet, where the walls are covered in scribbled words and strange images. This movie is practically an extended play version of a “Just Say No” ad. For me, one of the most wrenching sights is Whitney Houston smoking cigarettes, despite the cost to her voice. As her ever-faithful producer, Clive Davis tells her, “For you, smoking is like leaving a stradivarius out in the rain.” The abuse of such a precious natural gift is hard to watch.

Much of this film is hard to watch, and it doesn’t end well. Whitney Houston’s life is a matter of public record, and for the 50-year-olds in the theater with me, it’s a matter of memory. For older audiences, this movie is a stroll down a musical memory lane. Whether or not this will appeal to younger audiences remains to be seen.

Directed by Kasi Lemmons, Stanley Tucci, Tamara Tunie. Starring Naomi Ackie, Stanley Tucci, Tamara Tunie. Running time: 146 minutes. Theatrical release December 22, 2022. Updated

Watch the trailer for Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody

Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody
Rating & Content Info

Why is Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody rated PG-13? Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for strong drug content, some strong language, smoking, and suggestive references

Violence:   There are loud verbal arguments between husbands and wives. In one scene, a man grabs his wife by the jaw and threatens her. She threatens to get a gun to protect herself from him. There is mention of an offscreen accidental death. An angry woman throws plates and other household objects while she yells.
Sexual Content: There is an implied lesbian relationship with scenes of women embracing and kissing. There are scenes of a man and woman kissing. There are implied sexual relationships between unmarried men and women but there is no on-screen content. A woman is hospitalized for a miscarriage. An adulterous relationship is mentioned.
Profanity: There are just over three dozen profanities in the script, including 12 scatological curses, 10 terms of deity, seven anatomical phrases, seven minor profanities, and a single sexual expletive. There are also two sexual hand gestures.
Alcohol / Drug Use:   An adult smokes cigars. Main characters smoke cigarettes, sometimes to combat stress. There are frequent scenes of alcohol consumption in social contexts and in situations where the alcohol is being abused. There are several scenes of main characters using or preparing to use drugs, including marijuana and crack. A main character is shown severely damaged by drugs, in a large closet with bizarre words and images written on the walls.

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Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody Parents' Guide

What factors do you think contributed to Whitney Houston’s final collapse? How do you think her father, her husband, and her drug abuse affected her? How do you think her relationship with Robyn impacted her life? Why do you think she continued to smoke, despite tobacco’s obviously harmful effects on her voice? Do you struggle with any self-destructive behaviors? What resources are available to help you?

You can learn more about Whitney Houston at the links below:

History vs Hollywood: Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody (2022)

Wikipedia: Whitney Houston

The Guardian: “Our friendship was intimate on all levels”: Robyn Crawford on her love for Whitney Houston


Home Video

Related home video titles:

Freddie Mercury also had a tremendous vocal range and complicated issues related to his sexual orientation. His story is told in Bohemian Rhapsody, which shares a writer, Anthony McCarten, with I Wanna Dance With Somebody.

Another successful Black female recording artist with a powerful voice was Aretha Franklin. She was well acquainted with Whitney Houston and her story is told in Respect.

Elvis is another film featuring electrifying concert footage and less successful dramatic interludes – and an artist fighting a losing battle with drugs.