Review: The United States vs Billie Holiday


We follow legendary singer Billie Holiday (Andra Day) in the last decade of her life as racist FBI director Harry Anslinger (Garret Hedlund) attempts to arrest Billie at any cost while using agent Jimmy Fletcher (Trevante Rhodes) to get into her inner circle. 

I had already planned on watching this movie this week but after Andra Day's surprise Globe win on Sunday, I decided to watch it immediately the following morning and I can see why she won. Andra gave a bold and brilliant performance. Her singing is lovely and it's no small feat to capture someone like Holiday at her highest and lowest points. Unfortunately the rest of the movie is messy and doesn't live up to her performance.

Lee Daniels is capable of being a great director, Precious shows that but here there were so many tonal shifts I had no idea what exactly he was going for. The film is at its best when Day is on stage singing. But when she's not doing that, and we focus on other aspects of her life, mainly her drug use, it's all over the place. A funeral scene seems to go for comedy when nothing else about the film is funny. A flashback/heroin dream sequence bleeds into the next in the most confusing way possible and then leads up to Billie finally singing Strange Fruit, the song she keeps getting arrested for singing. That entire sequence said so much about the film itself. It's so capable of greatness but just doesn't know how to get there.

Even though the films have nothing to do with each other, after watching another amazing performance in a movie I didn't love, I think I may have been too harsh on Promising Young Woman. Because when I think about both of these movies and which one I'd sit through again, it isn't this one. 

Recommended: Yes for Andra Day only

Grade: C+

Memorable Quote: "Your grandchildren will be singing Strange Fruit."- Billie Holiday (Andra Day)

9 comments:

  1. I don't even think Day's performance is good enough to elevate this disaster of a movie

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    1. I don't think she should've won over Carey Mulligan, that's for sure.

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  2. Andra Day is the only reason why I want to see this as I too have issues with Lee Daniels. Precious seems like it's the only film he's made that is great as he tries to be so many things as I didn't like The Butler because it was all over the place.

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    1. Honestly he's on his way of being a one hit wonder like M. Night Shaymalan at this point. It's unfortunate.

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  3. I really want to see this after seeing Andra Day's Globe win on Sunday too! Bummer that the film overall wasn't very good. Sounds like Andra is the main reason to see the movie, similar to Tahar Rahim in The Mauritanian which I just reviewed.

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    1. She's definitely the highlight. I still need to see he Mauritanian myself.

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  4. Well, that is interesting because I thought you would like it. I have heard nothing but good things about this film but maybe it is because of her performance and not the film itself. Did you ever see Lady Sings The Blues with Diana Ross? I really like that film which is about this great lady also. I would like to know what you think of that film.

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    1. I thought I'd like this too but wow it's a mess. I haven't seen that one. I'll have to check it out.

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    2. It's a well done film that co-stars Billie Dee Williams and Richard Pryor

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