‘The United States vs. Billie Holiday’ review: Andra Day delivers the high notes in Lee Daniels’ disjointed biography
Day, an accomplished vocalist and songwriter, offers Zellweger a run for her acclaimed cash, amazingly recording Vacation’s voice and phrasing, in addition to the steady toll that substance abuse handled her.
If just the remainder of the motion picture, directed by Lee Daniels (“Precious”) from a script by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks, amounted to its star.
Rather, “Billie Holiday” uses an odd framing gadget with no clear function — an interview with an impertinent fan (Leslie Jordan) — bouncing around Vacation’s bio, while mainly concentrating on her relationship with a Black undercover representative, Jimmy Fletcher (“Moonlight’s” Trevante Rhodes), appointed to bring her down.
Police’s interest in Vacation stemmed mainly from her tune “Strange Fruit,” a haunting ballad about lynching in the South. Federal Bureau of Narcotics chief Harry Anslinger (Garrett Hedlund) saw Vacation’s outspokenness as a hazard and jazz in basic as “the devil’s work,” taking on anti-drug crusading as practical cover to bother and imprison her. (The movie is based upon the book “Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs.”)
As built, however, the movie feels episodic, taking not-fully-explored detours to discuss elements of Vacation’s life, in such a way that ill serves a great supporting cast. Those interludes include her romantic adventures with starlet Tallulah Bankhead (Natasha Lyonne, in what total up to a cameo) and numerous guys who made use of and benefited off her skills, generally without supporting her bold guts in playing her most controversy-inducing tune, the danger be damned.
The questionable nature of the drama raises the music as “Billie Holiday’s” standout function, often with action playing out in video bits as Vacation (that is, Day) croons.
Day has actually currently amassed a Golden World election, and offered the historical fondness for stars who do their own singing, Oscar acknowledgment may not be far behind. Diana Ross, significantly, was likewise chosen for “Lady” (Liza Minelli won that year for “Cabaret”), a testimony in part to what a plum function Vacation’s epic existence offers.
“The United States vs. Billie Holiday” premieres Feb. 26 on Hulu.
Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.