The story of the troubled life and career of the legendary Jazz singer, Billie Holiday.The story of the troubled life and career of the legendary Jazz singer, Billie Holiday.The story of the troubled life and career of the legendary Jazz singer, Billie Holiday.
The movie starts with the kind of 'bang' that is almost a shameless hook with Holiday being booked on narcotics charges, looking a mess, and then being put in a straight-jacket for acting crazy in withdrawal. The movie sometimes has these shameless melodramatic moments with Ross, and yet it's not her I would blame but the script. She gives it her all (contrary to some criticism - look it up - that she wasn't right for the role), and it's really the script that falls into cliché, or falls back on the all-too-convenient romance between her and Billy Dee Williams. All the actors actually are believable, from Williams to the "Piano Man" Richard Pryor to the guys who make up Holiday's band on the road.
How much or how little Holiday really was on drugs is almost besides the point. What works in the film is how much Ross sells it and makes us feel for this young woman who is struggles even as she can have it all (the last act with Carnegie Hall highlights this conflict in her character well). What would have made the film great is if they made other relationships tougher or done a little more to make things less clichéd. Whenever the music comes up the story can take a backseat, or, on occasion, be enriched by what Billie is going through; this shows best when she's still in the grip of her heroin addiction and goes up to sing, you can see the pain coming off of her face as she sings every note, and it's one of the best scenes in the film.
Perhaps just having the basics of Holiday's life is enough, at least for here. It's got some good attitude to spare, mostly through the performances, and just when the movie feels like its pulling away and doing something wrong or unsatisfying it comes back and does something to with over the audience. And there are some tough, dramatic scenes that have more to do with what's around Holiday, the racism she faces practically every day she went on the road (the KKK being basically a hazard to try and avoid, or hangings by the roadside) or up on stage (i.e. the radio-show scene where she's basically booted and humiliated in front of her family). It's things like this that make the film compelling, not so much the romantic soap opera elements or the parts of the drug addiction that become repetitive.
Or, again, like the movie Ray or Walk the Line. If you liked those, you'll like this.
- Jul 6, 2011