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Criticism | Without identity or focus, “ United States vs. Billie Holiday ‘worth it for Andra Day’s flawless performance

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Billie Holiday, Eleanora Fagan’s well-known artistic alter-ego, is one of the most important names in American culture. With names like Ella Fitzgerald and Dinah Washington, Holiday changed the musical scope of her time and presented, along with her compatriots, a stylistic revolution in jazz – not just for her phrasing and improvisations, which would influence virtually any act. future, but also because of the socio-political discussions he put forward and which permeated a dominant platform that most blacks did not have at the time. Now, if the song “Strange Fruit” remains alive in the minds of music lovers, it’s because of Holiday’s surrender and a poignant plot about the lynching of the Afro-descendant community by white supremacism.

Over the past several months, a long-awaited biopic on a very specific period of her life has been announced – limited to fame, the fall, and the toxic relationship with drugs and with several men who have walked through her life. Commissioned by Lee Daniels, name behind the famous “ The Last Supper ” and “ Empire ”, “ United States vs. Billie Holiday “aroused a growing sense of curiosity among the audience, but ultimately failed to meet any of the promised expectations; the feature film, sinning in essential aspects, lets the performance of the cast steal the show, but at what cost? After all, even the best can’t get away from a bland, worded story that doesn’t fit into any of the themes presented.

Daniels is known to be a very unique director who, although not independent, is recognized for a style that oscillates between poetic and realism with incredible fluidity. In any case, his last cinematographic surrender, “The Butler of the White House”, already gave the appearance of a dramatic incoherence that would become a snowball in the current work. Honestly, even the artistic technique used in the film doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, except for brief sequences that aren’t accompanied by an obvious plot or circular quirks of a horrific editing, that’s the least. one could say: from the start, Jar Rabinowitz’s cut has no direction and mixes references that aim at a repagination of “ Chicago ” and a soap opera more insipid than “ Burlesque ” (somewhat shocking, given Rabinowitz’s work on “ 8 Mile ” and “ Requiem for a Dream ”).

As if that were not enough, the panoramic structure is not the only one that does not deliver a trace of cohesion; the screenplay, signed by Suzan-Lori Parks, emerges as a jumble of events without distinction of cause and consequence, coming together into an amorphous mass that fails to achieve the completion of a well-meaning and worthy goal. In fact, Daniels and his team’s decision to adapt a documentary novel whose objective is to analyze the war on drugs in the United States and the transformation of blacks into targets is somewhat odd. Of course, Holiday has become a symbol of the community, but is mentioned briefly (and for descriptive purposes) as one of the personalities who have abandoned themselves to opioids. Why a more palpable approach to singer and songwriter was not taken may never see the light of day, but it deserves some explanation.

Problems aside, it is remarkable how the work tries to be more than it can and, for this reason, ends up alienating viewers who may have never even heard one of the songs. by Billie. It is in this context that Andra Day gives body and soul to the titular character, walking unsteadily through all the phases of her eventful life, paying homage and seeking inspiration from her compatriots. Day, in his first lead role, comes from the phonographic background and shapes his own voice in a surprising dialogue and frankness with Holiday, as if he is singing for the very young dead woman victim of his trust in the wrong people. It’s no surprise that she won an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, joining names like Lady Gaga and Cher, who also migrated from music to comedy to perfection.

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Accompanied by names like Trevante Rhodes, Natasha Lyonne, Garrett Hedlund, Da’Vine Joy Randolph and Tyler James Williams, Day and the rest of the cast are the driving force that strives to save, at all costs, the tragedy of a feature film. who didn’t pay attention to the slips themselves. Seeking to provide an explanation and humanization of the facts crucial to understanding the segregationist situation of the 1940s, Daniels delves into the superb superficiality of pamphletism and does not even close the narrative cycle, as if the struggle promoted by Billie and so many others. many other black singers of the time had no effect; more than that, the constant use of sepia and an old photographic tie creates a painful anachronism that, again, doesn’t need to understand the events.

It is unfortunate to imagine that “United States vs. Billie Holiday ‘could have been very different from the end result. Stained with derailed driving and relying entirely on the performance of a newly discovered actress who will have a bright future ahead of it, the film dies on the beach with no identity of its own – and in sad, repetitive predictability.

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