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Kim's Edition: A Tribute to Whitney Houston
The Preacher's Wife



What's it about?
In Penny Marshall's romantic comedy "The Preacher's Wife," Whitney Houston stars as the gospel-singing wife of Reverend Henry Biggs (Courtney B. Vance), a good man who is doubting his ability to make a difference in his troubled community and home. Help is on the way in the form of angel Dudley (Denzel Washington) who soon becomes both the source of and solution to their problems.

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Dudley helps Julia pick up the Christmas tree and talks about her marriage to Henry and how to keep the flame alive.

As was true of The Bishop's Wife, the Cary Grant-Loretta Young classic on which this new Denzel Washington-Whitney Houston vehicle is based, the story is little more than a calculated bit of whimsy. A suave, quasi-seductive angel (Washington) comes to earth at Christmastime to restore hope to the household of a melancholy clergyman (Courtney B. Vance) and his neglected wife (Houston). Songs have been added--the wife is now an inner-city gospel singer, and can sure belt out a tune--and things that were once ambiguous are spelled out. Where Cary Grant's angelic identity was more a thing to be guessed at, in Denzel's case there's no mistaking it.

Director Penny Marshall, working from a script by Nat Mauldin and Allan Scott, gives the new version a strong flavor of contemporary urban life, and in particular, nineties black culture. There's a detour through a jazz club, where the angel (at the request of the exhausted preacher) takes the wife for a night on the town--giving Houston still another chance to sing--and there's a bit of satire encircling the sharp, diabolical real estate huckster played by Gregory Hines. The brand-new planned community he's developing in the suburbs is a glossy threat to the homier, humbler, but closer-knit neighborhood community the preacher and his wife are trying with all their might to preserve.

Denzel Washington stars as Dudley.


1. I Believe in You and Me
2. Step by Step
3. Joy
4. Hold On, Help is on the Way
5. I Go to the Rock
6. I Love the Lord
7. Somebody Bigger Than You And I
8. You Were Loved
9. My Heart is Calling
10. I Believe In You and Me (single version)
11. Step By Step (remix)
12. Who Would Imagine a King
13. He's All Over Me
14. The Lord is My Shepherd
15. Joy to the World

Julia (Whitney) sings BeBe Winans' version of "Joy To The World."

On the location set of "The Preacher's Wife," director Penny Marshall prepares to shoot a scene with stars Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington.

The cast of "The Preacher's Wife" includes (clockwise from right) Denzel Washington, Justin Pierre Edmund, Darvel Davis Jr., Jenifer Lewis, Courtney B. Vance and Whitney Houston

Julia and Dudley ice skating. (The track "My Heart is Calling" plays in the backround")

Whitney Houston stars as Julia Biggs singing as head of the Church Gospel Choir. Whitney's mother, Cissy Houston, also was part of the choir and played a minor role.

The Preacher's Wife Soundtrack

Julia sings "I Believe in You and Me" at Jazzies, where Henry proposed.

Although the performances are charming, the story can't escape a clinging dullness at its heart. The preacher is amazingly stubborn about refusing the angel's help--he persists in his disbelief that his prayers for help have been answered, against all reason, for most of the movie. The angel, for his part, muddies his own mission by seeming to fall in love (understandably, but to no interesting or even dramatic effect) with the preacher's wife.

Celestial fantasy, like tennis, needs sharply defined rules and a quick, high-energy delivery if it's to work at all--and The Preacher's Wife seems content to drift, overdoing the few bits of tension at its disposal. Even so--if one must do remakes of old Cary Grant classics--the filmmakers have found a healthy, viable way by recreating the roles in terms of contemporary African-Americans. Despite the drawbacks in the writing, the mere act of casting recharges these otherwise-stale roles with fresh, authentic new life. Denzel Washington makes a great angel: he has a radiant sweetness that relieves the dull moviemaking. Whitney Houston's songs infuse her scenes with a much-needed oxygen, and Courtney B. Vance makes us feel the depth of this preacher's melancholy. The need for miracles is made palpable, even if it doesn't quite arrive in the form of a well-told story.



TOP ROW: Whitney Houston (left) stars as Julia Biggs, Denzel Washington (center) stars as an angel named Dudley, and Courtney B. Vance stars as Reverend Henry Biggs. BOTTOM ROW: Justin Pierre Edmund (left) as Jeremiah, Jenifer Lewis (center) as Marguerite Coleman, and Loretta Devine (right) as Beverly

Dudley helps Julia shop for Christmas presents.



NEW YORK (CNN) -- As the holiday season gets under way once again, a few Hollywood producers are harping on the angel theme. Take "The Preacher's Wife" starring Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston. "Preacher's" angel is a dancing one; Washington had to learn how to move for the role. He demonstrated his dancing for a CNN camera crew, prompting a comment from CNN's Michael Okwu: "What was up with that?" "You mean why'd I dance? or why'd I dance so bad?" Washington retorted. The actor himself characterized his dancing as "more and more bizarre" with every take.
"Basically, I'm a sucker for a laugh so I started building on it and building on it, and trying to squeeze -- I mean, I only had 30 seconds to dance, and I do about nine different dances," he said, demonstrating his James Brown moves, a little disco and some Popeye. "I was like, what the heck are you doing?" co-star Whitney Houston said.
What Washington is doing is wooing Whitney, although inadvertently. In the movie, Washington's character, Dudley the angel, is sent from heaven to help the good Rev. Henry Biggs, played by Tony-award nominee Courtney B. Vance. Biggs is losing his faith in spiritual power, and his marriage to his wife Julia, played by Houston, is on the skids. So, he asks God for help. God sends Dudley, the well-groomed Cupid, to repair things. His lengthy absence from the material world has made him easily impressed by little things -- like the smell of soap. And his awkwardness eventually makes it obvious to many of the characters that there is an angel in their midst. But ultimately, the stars say, the film not just a comedy. It is a visual testament of faith, "and hope," Houston said. "Belief and giving back to the community. Never abandoning the community, but replenishing it."
Penny Marshall's latest directing stint is a modern remake of the 1947 film "The Bishop's Wife," a movie she describes as "happy, singing, Christmas, go see it." "Singing" and "Christmas" could also describe her remake, a Yuletide celebration of gospel singing, Whitney Houston style. Houston readily admits she drew from her own life to play the role of the gospel singer. "Church and the gospel and the love of God for me" helped the role, she said. "If I closed my eyes, I would think I was back in church again when I was a child." Washington admitted that -- unlike his dancing -- there's nothing strange about Houston's legendary voice. Working with her was good, he joked, "once I got her to understand how to sing."