The United States vs. Billie Holiday
Even with a great director like Lee Daniels, this movie is an emotional ordeal from beginning to end.
To being with, Andra Day’s portrayal of Billie Holiday deserves her best actress Oscar nomination. She follows Halle Berry (she won) in director Daniels’ Monster’s Ball (2001).
The strength of his film focuses on Ms. Day’s singing. She brings Ms. Holiday back to passionate life so that the audience can revisit her performances on stage.
However, it tells a wicked story of how Ms. Holiday’s tragic addiction to heroin resulted in her death in 1959 at the age of 44. Pursued for years by the F.B.I.’s narcotics division who sought to destroy her, you need to know little more than the despicable fact that they arrested her while she was dying.
What made Ms. Holiday a legend that fed the racist anger of J. Edgar Hoover’s organization was her release of the song Strange Fruit. Motivated by the emotional outrage concerning the lynching of black Americans by the Klan and its supporters, Hoover and his minions sought to silence her in the same manner they pursued Martin Luther King as seen in MLK/FBI.
Though the film has a great cast, Ms. Holiday’s 3 marriages did little to help her overcome her drug addiction. In a sense she was caught in a vise with the FBI pulling the lever on one end and her African American husbands doing the same while living off the money she earned.
Regardless, let me point out the wonderful performance of Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Roslyn, Holiday’s devoted assistant. Not remotely caring that she packed on a few extra pounds, she was one funny woman who helped Holiday survive her weaknesses.
Let me close by pointing out that the film is not helped by its unnecessary length of 2 hours, 10 minutes. Ms. Holiday’s ordeal in many ways becomes yours and for some it will become a difficult film to embrace when the ending is no surprise.