In Brief: Great performance from deserved Andra Day, wonderful singing in a dreadfully dull biopic.
Billie Holiday had enormous talent. The lady could flat out sing. Though I’m not even close to a fan of jazz, you’ll get no argument from me about Holiday’s vocal skills. The same goes for Andra Day who stars as Holiday in The United States vs. Billie Holiday.
A Golden Globe resting on her mantle for last year’s best actress in the musical or comedy category says it all. You can add acting to her impressive vocal performance.
Holiday — says history and this movie — was targeted by the U.S. government in the 1950s because of her refusal to stop singing Strange Fruit. The song is about a lynching. Considering the song to be a rallying cry for the budding civil rights movement, and using Holiday’s heroin addiction as a reason, the FBI went after her with a vengeance.
A black agent climbing the ranks named Jimmy Fletcher is sent to spy on and develop a relationship with Holiday in order to bring her down. They develop a friendship and then a relationship. The relationship may or may not be fiction. Writer Johann Hari wrote about Holiday in one segment of his book Chasing the Scream. Its focus is addiction.
The movie is written by Susan-Lori Parks (Spike Lee’s Girl 6) and is directed by Lee Daniels who directed the also difficult to watch, Precious in 2009. Like Precious, this one is hard to watch. However, it’s for a different reason.
The film is packed with one fabulous performance, a bunch of decent performances and some excellent music but little else.
Director: Lee Daniels
Stars: Andra Day, Trevante Rhodes, Jimmy Fletcher, LaKeith Stanfield, Garret Hedlund, Tyler James Williams, Natasha Lyonne
Rated R for language, nudity, violence, drug use and mature themes. Billy Holiday was a great singer. Other than Audra Day’s excellent performance, this biopic isn’t close to great. Sing this one a 2 on the Friday Flicks with Gary o to 5 scale.
The United States vs. Billie Holiday can only be found on Hulu.
Gary Wolcott has been reviewing movies on radio, television and newspaper since 1990. He believes — and this is an estimate only — that he’s seen something close to 10,000 movies in his lifetime. Gary is a lifelong fan of films and catches a couple of hundred movies a year. He believes movies ought to be seen on the big screen and not on the small screen in your living room or family room. While he loves movies, he also says reviewing film can be a real sacrifice and that he sees many movies so you don’t have to.
He is one of KXL 101.1 FM’s film critics and joined the news staff in 2014. Gary is also the film critic for Tri-Cities, Washington’s Tri-City Herald.