This movie was full of paradoxes to me. On one hand, there are some original things I really liked about this movie (the one sequence with no cut, where we see the horror behind the song “Strange Fruit”, the fact the movie portrays Billie Holiday as a person with flaws) on another, it unfortunately falls into the same traps as many biopics that came before it, where even if you are not familiar with Billie’s story, you know where this is going. And also, the movie is a bit longer than necessary, where it looses the emotional impact.
Let’s start with the positives, Andra Day is simply phenomenal in this role. I do need to state that I know nothing about Billie Holiday, so I can’t judge how faithfully she portrayed her, but I can say that Andra’s performance really resonated with me. One of the pitfalls The United States vs. Billie Holiday doesn’t fall into as a biopic, is the fact it’s not afraid to show the person, who the movie is about (in this case Billie Holiday) with all their flaws and imperfections, they are not trying to make a saint out of her. Don’t get me wrong, the movie is saying that plenty of her issues were not her fault (which again, I don’t know how true or not it is, but given everything I know about American history, it wouldn’t shock me, if most of it was at least somehow true) but then it also displays her as a broken person, who at the end of day, is just a person. I think the movie succeeded in painting a thin line, where you can see what’s happened to her was awful and at the same time, how some things would have happened without anybody’s interreference. And Andra gave her everything to this performance, where she never felt one dimensional. She can be strong in one scene and broken in the next and you still can tell that deep down, it is the same person.
I also was stunned by that one sequence, that definitely stays with you, where we see the burning tree and the horrors of lynching. That one shot, everything that leads to it and everything that happens after it, will stay with you for some time, that is for sure.
Unfortunately, the movie suffers from being a bit too long, where except Andra’s performance and that one sequence, you don’t really remember anything else. I am writing this review about a week and a few days after watching this movie and I can’t really recall much more beyond those details. One of the reasons for this is the length, where the movie just goes deeper and deeper into the same stuff, where unfortunately it starts to feel repetitive, and no matter what you see, it doesn’t hit you as hard as it should. If you let the viewer wallow in the dirt too much and for too long, eventually, they become numb to it and that is what happened here. You watch the movie, you see everything that’s happening, but at some point, it feels too repetitive and it doesn’t impact you as much.
Again, I need to repeat this, I knew nothing about Billie Holiday before watching the movie, but in this movie, there was nothing, that surprised me, as the film follows the unwritten rules of biopic movies “rise, fall, rise, fall, rise, fall, death”, if I were to oversimplify them. And there is definitely something wrong, if you are watching a drama about a person you know nothing about, but you can tell without a doubt where it’s going, what the next scene will be and there are little to no surprises in store for you. It almost feels as if people making biopic movies believed, that if their movies are not over 2 hours long, they wouldn’t be taken seriously. So they cram the movie full of things that not only are not needed, but make the movie bloated, where even though you shouldn’t be bored, because it’s dealing with serious topic, you are bored.
I do believe there is a great movie in here, if it was to be re-edited a bit, by good 20/30 minutes. And based on the fact the movie scored only one Oscar nomination for Andra’s performance (deservedly so) and the current IMDb rating is 6.3/10, it seems like I am not the only one who thinks that. It’s a shame, as if done well, we could have had a hidden gem on our hands, about somebody I would say plenty of people are not THAT familiar with. Instead, what we’ve gotten is a decent enough movie, that only goes to above average territory simply because Andra Day.
Overall, The United States vs. Billie Holiday is a decent movie, that is only worth seeing for the one and only Andra Day (I know I’ve mentioned her name a lot in this review, but she truly deserves it). The movie’s topic and message couldn’t be more relevant today, but unfortunately it feels really dull and falls into the same traps as bunch of biopics prior to this one, where except of one really strong sequence and one hell of a performance, you won’t remember much else a week or two later on. And that shouldn’t happen.
That’s all for this one! Did you see it? What did you think about it? Let me know!
Until next time,