At The Movies: Matilda The Musical hits higher notes than Whitney Houston biopic

Naomi Ackie in I Wanna Dance With Somebody. PHOTO: SONY PICTURES
Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody is a rote run-through of the diva’s life and career PHOTO: SONY PICTURES

Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody (M18)

145 minutes, opens on Thursday
2 stars

The story: British actress Naomi Ackie does her best Whitney Houston impression – big hair and all – for a 1980s biopic of the late American singer’s rise from New Jersey choir girl to global superstar.

Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody is a rote run-through of the diva’s life and career, wrapped around Ackie lip-syncing Houston’s performances.

It is a Houston karaoke songbook. And so, despite having nothing insightful to say, it stretches over two hours because Houston has many songs and 22 of these – including So Emotional, I Will Always Love You and the titular I Wanna Dance With Somebody – are on the soundtrack.

Houston was the most awarded female pop vocalist. Everyone, it seems, is a fan. “You are the greatest,” says a bartender.

“You were fantastic,” reaffirms Arista Records mogul Clive Davis, who signed his protege at 19 after discovering her and is played by a Stanley Tucci visibly wearied by the idolatry.

Competing for control of her lucrative fabulousness, meanwhile, are her parents John (Clarke Peters) and Cissy (Tamara Tunie) and her assistant-lover Robyn Crawford (Nafessa Williams).

Director Kasi Lemmons of Harriet (2019) is a champion of trailblazing African-American women and Ackie (Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker, 2019) is a winning presence, but there is no context here for Houston being “the greatest voice of her generation”.

Her challenges as a white-crossover success get mere passing mention, and who were her contemporaries other than her husband, R&B bad boy Bobby Brown (Ashton Sanders)?

This Houston is weightless even during her late, tragic decline into substance abuse that ended with her death in 2012 at the age of 48.

Hot take: You get so emotional baby, ain’t it shocking how bland this (family-authorised) movie is.

Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical (PG)

Emma Thompson (left) and Alisha Weir in Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical. PHOTO: NETFLIX

117 minutes, on Netflix
3 stars

The story: An extraordinary little girl armed with just her vivid imagination stands up for justice, against the bullies of the world, in this beloved kid-lit classic by British novelist Roald Dahl.

Matilda Wormwood (Alisha Weir) has money-grubbing Cockney trash parents (Stephen Graham and Andrea Riseborough) who hate her and insist on calling her a boy.

Her headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, is a hulking fascist played by Emma Thompson on steroids (okay, so it is just prosthetics). The English Hammer-Throwing Champion of 1959 now hurls pupils over the school field by their pigtails.

Roald Dahl’s Matilda The Musical is based on the 2010 Royal Shakespeare Company hit production of his 1988 novel. It remains musical theatre, restaged for the camera by the same Olivier Award record-breaking team of director Matthew Warchus, lyricist Tim Minchin and screenwriter Dennis Kelly, yet even those not partial to maximalist candy-coloured song-and-dance extravaganzas will get a laugh out of the outrageously monstrous adults on display.

Going toe-to-toe with these sadists is Irish tween Weir, who is a perfection of defiance and vulnerability starring as the exuberant romp’s wee heroine.

The addition of computer-generated imagery in this movie adaptation has accentuated Matilda’s psychokinesis, but her intellect is her greatest mind power.

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Matilda loves nothing more than to read, to disappear into her books, which frees her from fear of tyrants to rewrite her destiny and help others change their life stories.

The stomping showpiece Revolting Children is their anthem as Matilda rouses her schoolmates to topple Miss Trunchbull, every one of these moppets a fireball.

Hot take: Bookworms, unite. Precocious and literate, Matilda is a role model for all ages.

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