I Wanna Dance With Somebody

Content Caution

whitney houston singing national anthem - I Wanna Dance With Somebody


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Kennedy Unthank

Movie Review

Cissy Houston knew that her daughter, Whitney, had an amazing voice—even if she got a bit caught up in it while singing for the church choir.

“God gives you a gift, you’ve gotta use it right,” Cissy insists.

Cissy gives the advice in earnest: She knows how far Whitney’s voice could take her. And when record producer Clive Davis arrives at a New York nightclub to listen to Cissy and Whitney perform, Cissy fakes a cough and sore throat to get Whitney—who typically sings backup vocals—to front of stage. Just like that, Whitney’s life changes forever.

“I might have just heard the greatest voice of her generation,” Davis says.

Now, the producer’s job is to find all the “great, big songs” that Whitney wants to sing—songs that’ll blow the nation away with Whitney’s talent. But it’s a tough gig, always being under pressure and in the limelight. If you’re going to be “America’s princess,” you’ve gotta look and act the part. And that’s tougher than it looks.

Positive Elements

Whitney’s mother, Cissy, supports Whitney through her career. Though Whitney sings backup vocals for her mother, Cissy fakes a cough in order to get Whitney to sing lead in front of Davis. Later, when Cissy hears that a song’s tempo is sluggish, she conducts the band herself in order to help get Whitney the best sound possible.

Throughout the film, Whitney’s parents tell her that she’s America’s princess. As it turns out, the term of endearment and the subsequent fame have caused Whitney to want a simpler life—one where she can raise her daughter and be happy. It’s decades later when Whitney directly voices these concerns to her mother before a show.

“You’re my princess,” Cissy says, attempting to support her daughter before she goes on stage.

“I think I’m just gonna be me,” Whitney responds.

Clive says he doesn’t get involved in the personal affairs of his clients. But when he sees how Whitney is destroying herself through drug use, he has an intervention with her, trying to get her to go to rehab. Whitney’s creative director, Robyn Crawford, makes a similar attempt, too.

When critics confront Whitney for making music that appeals to all demographics, she responds that “music has no boundaries.”

Spiritual Elements

Whitney sings “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah” in a church choir, but her particular inflection of the notes garners Cissy’s disdain. “God gives you a gift, you’ve gotta use it right,” Cissy says. Whitney prays for God to give her strength at one point, and a couple of songs reference various religious terms (such as prayer). Whitney sings “Jesus Loves Me” as well.

Davis, who’s Jewish, tells Whitney that he won’t be her therapist or rabbi. Later, Whitney quotes Matthew 5:16 to him, and the producer responds with his own advice, calling it the “gospel of Clive.”

“Clive, you’re Jewish,” Whitney responds. “So was Jesus—at least on His mother’s side,” Clive quips.

Whitney’s father, John, quotes Scripture passages such as 1 Corinthians 15:33: “Bad company corrupts good character.”

Whitney says “to sing with the gods, you need a ladder” to justify her drug use (more on that later).

Sexual Content

Following Whitney’s death, both her ex-husband, Bobby Brown, and Robyn Crawford say that Houston was bisexual. And the film shows us that Whitney and Robyn had an intimate relationship before she was signed. We see the two women kiss, and they live together for a time.

When Whitney brings the relationship up to her father, he tells them that they need to be seen in public “on dates with young men.” Due in part to her parents’ urgings, Whitney breaks things off with Robyn. Whitney also talks about how the Bible says homosexuality is a sin and tells Robyn that they could go to hell if they continue in it. Whitney soon breaks the relationship off, though the attraction between the two women remains evident for the rest of the film.

While talking about the song “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me),” Whitney says she likes the song because it’s about wanting to dance with someone, “but, for whatever reason, you just can’t.” The context of the scene subtly alludes to her attraction to Robyn.

When Whitney first meets Bobby Brown, she asks him how old he is, prompting him to respond, “Old enough.” Whitney eventually starts dating Bobby, and the two passionately kiss a couple times. During Bobby’s proposal, he mentions that he got his ex-girlfriend pregnant. We hear rumors about Bobby’s affairs with other women. And we learn that Whitney had sex with Jermaine Jackson. Whitney’s father has an affair, too.  

We eventually discover that Clive is also bisexual, and we see Whitney and Davis look out the window at his partner.

Dancers wear tight outfits, and a couple of characters wear clothing that exposes cleavage. At one point, Whitney is seen in a bathtub, though nothing is shown. We see Whitney and others in swimsuits.

Violent Content

When Whitney breaks things off with Robyn, Robyn smashes stuff in her house. Whitney attempts to kick Bobby out of her home by threatening to get a gun and shoot him, prompting Bobby to forcefully grab and pin Whitney against a wall.

While Whitney films a scene for The Bodyguard, she stumbles. And in the next scene, we are told she had a miscarriage.

Crude or Profane Language

The f-word is used once, and the s-word is used at least 20 times. We also hear about 10 uses of “a–” and “d–n,” respectively. “H—” and “ho” are also used a few times each, and “b–ch” is used once. God’s name is used in vain 15 times or so, and at least four of those are in the form of “g-dd–n.” Someone uses a crude hand gesture.

Drug and Alcohol Content

The film dives deeply into Houston’s troubling history with drug use. Early in the movie, we see Whitney smoke a marijuana joint and inhale from a bong. Her initial drug use escalates to heavier drugs which noticeably change Whitney’s appearance and cause people close to her to push her towards rehab. As her drug problem grows worse, Whitney begins canceling concerts, prompting pursuing press to ask if she’s “high right now?”

Rumors in the press speculate further about Bobby and Whitney’s drug use. We watch as she obtains drugs from a drug dealer on a couple occasions. And when Whitney doesn’t show up for her father’s funeral, concerned family members find her instead high on drugs at her house scrawling messages on the walls; that incident results in her arrest and forced rehab. At the end of the film, text tells us that Whitney died in a “drug-related accidental drowning.”

Various characters drink a variety of alcoholic beverages. Others smoke cigarettes or cigars.

Other Negative Elements

Bobby is arrested for breaking parole. Black critics of Whitney say that she’s “not a real Black artist” because her music isn’t “Black enough”; they call her racially charged names such as “Whitey” and “Oreo” (which, the slur alludes to, accuses someone of being Black on the outside but white on the inside). Whitney’s father, greedy for money, threatens to sue his own daughter.


The tragedy of celebrity status is a tale as old as time. If I told a story about a celebrity who rose to prominence, had a tumultuous and scandalous marriage, got addicted to hardcore drugs and died a sudden, tragic death, you’d all likely have a different name come to mind. And those famous folks would likely span various occupations, from actors, artists and musicians to authors, athletes and influencers.

Fame brings all the world has to offer and enjoy, but it also often destroys lives. And in the Whitney Houston drama I Wanna Dance With Somebody, we get a taste of both.

The film feels like a hodgepodge of Houston’s greatest hits smashed between the many excesses that often come with celebrity status. And surprisingly, despite the film’s two-and-a half-hour runtime, it still feels like we’re rushing from one moment of Houston’s life to the next without spending enough time developing anything of substance along the way.

Though Naomi Ackie does a magnificent job portraying Houston, the many songs (where Houston’s actual vocals are used) we hear are where the film shines. And were this movie a simple tribute to Houston’s greatest hits, that may have been all that needed to be said about it. But there’s much more in this biopic.

The film dives into Houston’s romantic relationship with her friend and creative director Robyn Crawford, who in real life said that the two had been “intimate on all levels.” While we see little more than kissing, the plot point remains. We also catch a glimpse into Houston’s volatile relationship with Bobby Brown as well as her addiction to drugs. And heavy language pervades the film, too, though its producers have managed to keep it within the bounds of the PG-13 rating standards.

The film also makes it clear that Whitney considers the fame more trouble than it’s worth. “I don’t know if I can do this anymore. Be everything to everyone,” she tells Bobby. But the singer is already too deep into a very successful career at that point, and a life of peace and quiet seems far out of reach of someone with so many responsibilities on her shoulders. That confession prompts Bobby’s callous response: “Well, you can’t stop now, right?”

Though moments of poignant joy and kindness certainly grace this film, I Wanna Dance With Somebody remains an all-too-familiar cautionary tale about how fame can destroy someone’s life.

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Kennedy Unthank

Though he was born in Kansas, Kennedy Unthank studied journalism at the University of Missouri. He knew he wanted to write for a living when he won a contest for “best fantasy story” while in the 4th grade. What he didn’t know at the time, however, was that he was the only person to submit a story. Regardless, the seed was planted. Kennedy collects and plays board games in his free time, and he loves to talk about biblical apologetics and hermeneutics. He doesn’t think the ending of Lost was “that bad.”