Movie Review: Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody

Starting off with any review of a movie Biopic about Whitney Houston – the choice of the title “Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody” is probably the worst decision I have ever seen for a title in the history of movies. What the hell were they all thinking coming up with such a stupid title? Just about any title the producers could have thought of, would be better than this idiotic one for such an important, sad and significant story about arguably the greatest singer of all time.

Some four years ago I reviewed the documentary Whitney a more complete and accurate description of the tragedy of Whitney Houston – mainly because a documentary is a better vehicle for a story about the extreme highs and lows of celebrity than any movie could be.

This movie succeeds in addressing most of the important high and low points of Whitney Houston’s life, although too much of the first half of this film deals with the “more than just a friendship” relationship that Whitney had with Robyn Crawford. Considering all that happened during Whitney’s short life, showing this much of this one relationship misses the most important underlying message of this preventable tragedy: how one person turned a one in a billion talent into a curse that ended her life in a bathtub after drowning because of drug use at only age 48.

So what went wrong? I remember some years ago reading an ESPN report about a high percentage of NBA and NFL retired players who went broke within 5 years of leaving their sport. The reason is that young athletes have no idea how to manage a great deal of money. They spend like there is no tomorrow, like their sports careers will be going on forever. Many of them forget they have to pay taxes – both State and Federal. It was the same problem for Whitney Houston, played very well by actress Naomi Ackie. Whitney spent far too much money, mistakenly allowed her criminal father to manage her career and even steal from her. She paid salaries to too many of her family members. Money was spent to get her husband Bobby Brown out of legal trouble, far too many times. Money was spent on private jets and too many unnecessary extravagances and drug use. Making a great deal of money requires a great deal of responsibility and know-how. Just like so many formerly wealthy athletes, Whitney Houston should have been a client of a very large accounting firm, that managed all of her money, and her career and gave her a monthly allowance. Surprisingly, when you realize the importance of Whitney Houston’s music producer, Clive Davis (played very well by Stanley Tucci), it makes little sense that Clive did not help her with this extremely important aspect of her career – her money.

Sadly, towards the end of Whitney Houston’s life, she was almost completely broke due to decades of financial mismanagement. All of this led to ongoing circles of self-destruction born from too much too young and an innate inability to tolerate all of the horrible things people say and do, that destroyed what should have been an amazing life into a tragic one. This movie forgot to mention that it was Al Sharpton who called for the boycotting of Whitney Houston’s music because he thought it was too white. Big mouth Sharpton forgot that Whitney Houston was a 19 year old child, terrified over having so much fame and fortune at a young age. Sharpton did not care that Whitney was just doing what she was told to do, because she was so young. What Sharpton did care about was stirring up a frenzy at the expense of a young girl – using once again, his huge big mouth.

One highlight of this film was showing Whitney’s two incredible performances on the Merv Griffin show in 1983 and her once in a lifetime performance in the Super Bowl, singing the National Anthem – arguably the greatest musical performance in front of the largest audience in human history. In January 1991 when Whitney Houston hit this incredible high note, there was nowhere else to go – but down. As I wrote 4 years ago when reviewing the documentary “Whitney”, after “The Bodyguard” released in 1992, Whitney Houston had nothing more to prove and should have retired. As the saying goes, hindsight is 20-20.

I can only guess that the very low 48% ratings on Rotten Tomatoes have to do with the too-long running time of 2 hours, 26 minutes, the important parts that were missing from this story, including the jealous relationship that Whitney’s mother Cissy Houston had with her daughter, the tragic end of Whitney Houston’s own daughter and ultimately the completely absurd title. Once again the critics are wrong and I give this film a solid 80% for the acting, the musical performances and the well-told story.

Movie Review: Whitney

Most of us have heard the saying “God never gives us more than we can handle”. Anyone who sees the new documentary about Whitney Houston “Whitney” will realize that God gave Whitney Houston far more than she could handle. Whitney’s incredible singing talent came directly from God and her DNA, (her mother was Cissy Houston and her first cousin was Dionne Warwick). She was born with a one-in-a-billion gift of having arguably the greatest singing voice in human history. Whitney had all of the talents, but you need far more than talent to survive a life within a world spotlight as bright as she lived through starting when she was only 19 years old. Whitney needed the skin of a rhinoceros to survive the hateful and stupid comments so many cruel critics said about her – including even Al Sharpton, who said that her songs were “too white” and he stupidly tried to have her songs boycotted. All of this badly hurt the delicate and nice person that Whitney was and eventually turned her into a harsh-looking drunken drug addict in the end.

Whitney needed a very strong financial mentor to take complete control of her money and make sure she lived well below her means and did not give so much money to her entire family just because they were part of her family. Very depressingly in the end, all of Whitney Houston’s money was gone and she was about to become homeless because of years of paying for drugs, paying her entourage, failing to stop the criminals around her from stealing her money, and outrageous levels of financial mismanagement. Whitney also needed the strength to know when to stop being Whitney Houston and retire. She needed to realize that the most important thing in your life is your health and that it’s all just about singing, it is not curing cancer. This is also true of other people who have followed the same path as Whitney Houston – Micheal Jackson and Elvis Presley and so many others who completely lost all perspective and common sense and died way too soon. People like this think they can spend money indiscriminately because all they have to do is turn out another album or go on another tour – and it just doesn’t work that way.

While watching this very well-done, but depressing documentary about Whitney Houston I remember wondering if Whitney Houston could have been saved from her horrible end. If she had a chance to do her life over all over again, could she now be a 54-year-old billionaire living in a farm in Georgia, raising horses and working for charities? Could there ever have been a mentor strong enough to save Whitney Houston from herself, or could only Whitney save herself if she could live her life over again? From making so many mistakes, including marrying the wrong man, doing drugs with her 2 brothers, and spending money like it was water. I wondered so often while watching this film, where were Whitney Houston’s parents when everything was going down the drain? Why didn’t they do something drastic long before it was too late? In my opinion, what Whitney should have done was retire in 1992 after the Bodyguard was released along with the album. In 1992, Whitney was at her career peak after the Bodyguard and her incredible performance in Super Bowl 25 (see attached video). In my opinion, Whitney Houston’s performance of the Star Spangled Banner is the greatest singing performance of all time. After 1992 things started to go downhill because of her bad marriage to a jealous Bobby Brown and her trying to chase a peaking career that had reached a level that was impossible to maintain. Whitney could have retired very wealthy and only performed as an actress or singer sporadically – saving herself from the pain of the spotlight that she so clearly could not handle. Based on what this documentary points out so well, 1992 should have been the year when Whitney Houston retired or semi-retired. So obvious to everyone except Whitney Houston, at the end of 1992 she had nothing more to prove.

This documentary brought out many things that most people never knew about Whitney Houston’s life and this included the fact that it was Whitney’s two brothers who were introduced to drugs at an early age and not her husband Bobby Brown – which is what most people thought, including me. Whitney was also molested by Dee Dee Warwick, Dionne Warwick’s sister at a young age, along with her two brothers. Despite the famous singers in the family, Whitney’s early life in Newark New Jersey was in poverty and her mother Cissy was never home, trying to pursue a singing career. Her father John, who managed Whitney’s singing career for years, in the end, tried to sue his own daughter for 100 million dollars and over the years, like others in Whitney’s life – stole her money.

The other victim in all of this is Whitney Houston’s daughter Bobby Christina Brown who died face down in a bathtub like her mother from a combination of drugs and alcohol at only 22 years old. From this documentary, we learn that her two parents were drunken drug addicts and were almost never parents to Christina – taking their child along for their long ride into drug addiction. One can only imagine what this poor child had to witness and live through during her entire young life.

Whitney Houston’s rise to superstardom should be considered the all-time perfect example of how not to be rich and famous. Houston’s rise and fall is an American tragedy, one of the worst in the history of celebrity. For many reasons, this documentary was very hard to watch, but for me, it was the most depressing because so much of what happened could have and should have been prevented.

There is a video from Whitney’s first TV appearance in 1983 on the Merv Griffin show in this documentary (see attached video) that like her rendition of the Star Spangled Banner in 1991 is one of the greatest singing performances of all time.

I highly recommend Whitney as one of the best documentaries about a major celebrity who left us far too soon, that I have ever seen.