The United States Vs. Billie Holiday (2021)

Lee Daniels directs Andra Day, Trevante Rhodes and Garrett Hedlund in this musical biopic of jazz singer Billie Holiday and the FBI’s destructive hounding of her after she sang Strange Fruit.

Andra Day’s blistering, brave and sensual lead performance means this always out swims its flaws. There’s a ropey framing device that is quickly all but abandoned and the production values often suffers a blatant cheapness in the post war period set dressing. Lee Daniels is an awkward filmmaker, yet I appreciate his distinctive luridness. There is a pleasing amount of nudity from Day and Rhodes and their sex scenes have undeniable heat. Yet he does stumble head first through the cliches of the modern music biopic, more than once in a few cases. Which is frustrating as there is a strong and tight tale from history here that would be a cinematic romantic thriller in its own right even before you factor in Holiday’s legendary and revolutionary status within the entertainment world. A mixed bag but I kinda forgave it for being half flat and half clunky as I certainly was never bored watching Day.

6

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