Bio films. Normally it tells of the person's life. From start to finish. The ups and downs, and everything in between. It becomes interesting when it’s a specific point in the subject's life.
Enter “The United States vs. Billie Holiday”. Based on the book “Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs” by Johann Hari. The film tells the story of the late singer's trials and tribulations while being targeted by the government. The film deals with discrimination and racism.
Warning there are many scenes of drug use and derogatory words and actions towards African Americans.
So here is what I liked, sadly it’s not much.
Andra Day as Billie Holiday. Not only does she capture the spirit of lady day. When she sings she sounds just like her. It’s a little scary, in a good way. She is fearless in the role. An incredible performance.
It looks beautiful. The style of the 40s is there. And in great detail which I really appreciate. The costumes are stunning. The sets look of the period. I even appreciate the small prop detail.
Now for the dislikes, sadly there is a lot of them. I got lost in the story. Not in a good way. The plot is there, but there is a lot of subplot. Everything is all over the place. From the storytelling to the tone. It’s hard to follow at some points. I understand what they were trying to do and say. But the structure was way off. Billie's love life is hard to follow as well. There’s a lot of fat to trim with this movie.
Natasha Lyonne - her portrayal of Tallulah Bankhead is fine but is underused. Why make this a big deal if she’s barely there. She is in about 3 scenes and never seen again. Why bother?
More music. Billie Holiday is one of the most influential artists of our time. While there are plenty of songs in the film. Sadly there isn’t enough. And with an iconic singer like lady day, it’s disappointing
Leslie Jordan - he is basically playing himself in a wig. It doesn't seem right for this film. His role should have been written differently, cast differently or taken out completely.
Getting to know Billie more, it’s very career focused. There are some flashbacks but they seem unfinished. Almost as if you should know her story before seeing the movie. Also seeing more of her reporte onstage. I enjoyed the scenes of her talking to her audience. Seeing more would have been nice.
There are some points of the film I'm on the fence about. I don’t love it, but I don’t hate it.
Billie’s friends/family and band mates . Loved the scenes when they are together. But nothing is done with them. There’s no real development.
What the story is trying to do. The film is trying to give you a lot of story. Not very successfully in my opinion. I think this could have been two separate movies. It could have even been better as a mini series. But I appreciate the stories it’s telling.
So how do I feel about this film. Honestly I would see the film strictly for Andra Day’s performance and nothing else. It’s a fantastic performance. The film however is hard to follow and a little confusing. I feel if they did things a different way, it would have been a fantastic film. Sadly it missed the mark.
“The United States vs. Billie Holiday” is available for streaming on Hulu