Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (2020) Poster

User Reviews

Review this title
378 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
A Play Put On Film
Golden_Hope20 December 2020
I didn't really know much about this movie going in so i was surprised to find out that it was based on a play but after watching it you can see that fact from a mile off.

The film is soaked in play-like monologues and limited sets and the framing. It works so well. It is such a dialogue heavy movie that it could run the risk of being a little bit slow but it is just that well acted and the dynamics and topics are so well thought out that you find time flying by while watching.

The characters are really 3 dimensional and you understand who they are. This is all backed up by the acting. For the most part everyone in this movie hits it out of the park. i really love Colman Domingo and he really shines in this film. He just has a charm that draws you to any character that he plays. Chadwick was really great too. His emotional scenes really sweep the rug out from under your feet and i really wasn't expecting him to be able to do that he was really great. And Viola Davis is just fantastic. I love how she just dives head first into her characters and just lives in them. It reads so well on screen. She just embodies the role even down to the way she walks is just done to perfection.

There isn't a whole lot of story because it is very character based but it does things to keep it fresh and i found it to be really shocking at times and took turns that you really wouldn't expect.

The costumes are also really well done. I would guess that they would get an Oscar nod because they are fantastic.

I would defiantly see this movie especially if you love character studies and want to feel like you looking though a window into a day in the life of these people.
141 out of 179 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Excellent acting, great cast, but the movie as whole was boring.
Brooklynsmagicmike19 December 2020
I love Chadwick Boseman as an actor and got emotional seeing him in this. Especially with how skinny he was. Viola Davis did good job as well in her role. However the movie is incredibly draggy, the humor was dry, and nothing really happens at all. It just diddn't do it for me.
282 out of 377 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
It was good but went nowhere
peterk7277 April 2021
This movie was decent but after you watch it for a bit it slows down and has a crappy ending. Sure, its historical. Viola Davis overdid her acting in the role. In the end I wasted my time. Not as good as you might think.
22 out of 26 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
pointzeropictures-124 December 2020
Disappointing. Another wasted opportunity and a sad waste of money. I was looking forward to this because of the caliber of acting talent involved and was seriously let down. This film was a classic case of making a mistake in not understanding the differences between mediums. This was a filmed play and it should not have been. The director completely failed to steer this ship in the right direction. It was full of long-winded, dialog-heavy scenes (as on stage in a theater) that may have been tolerable in a theater (because that's why you come to a theater, to watch a live performance) but was unbearably boring to watch in a movie. Sorry, Mr. Denzel Washington, I know you're a fan of August Wilson (the playwright), you made the wrong choice here with the director.
65 out of 85 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Dialogue heavy no soul
rob-3520822 March 2021
For a film about the blues it has no soul, it's difficult to form a relationship with the characters, Ma Rainey is a hateful person with no redeeming features. Chadwick Boseman carried the film but it was way too heavy even for his talent. A dreary somewhat pedestrian handling of what should a good film, a real shame.
36 out of 45 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
kjeltprent18 December 2020
This film is full of good performances. Chadwick Boseman and Viola Davis shine in this movie. Chadwick was incredible. I am very happy to see him one more time, and what a performance he gives. The story felt a bit short. The story is not that special but I'll say it again, the performances are so good. That's why I give this film a 7.

Thank you Chadwick Boseman, R.I.P.
69 out of 94 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Unfortunately really boring
matt_brown122 December 2020
Incredible cast but that's it. It was a play and this just seems like they didn't do much to change it. If you expecting the story of Ma Rainey you won't get it - more just a snap shot of one incident. The sound and voice when viola lip synced was not great and just didn't match. Maybe I had too high expectations because of the cast and director. There were so good moments and it's a snap shot of time and history that ultimately hasn't really moved on a lot. But this as a film - meh
61 out of 84 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Poor adaptation of a below average play
yurik-lee4 January 2021
Horrific overacting and a script that rambles and goes nowhere. Most of the film is taken up with individual stories about how the white man was evil, which became very tiresome very quickly. A few very daft plot twists that never went anywhere. This was more 'panto' than serious drama and those involved should be ashamed of the mess they produced. This film literally had no redeeming features
28 out of 36 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
The Actors Deserve Better
varun-2507199718 December 2020
Everything in the film is perfect except for its poor direction and lack of story. Chadwick Boseman and Viola Davis are spectacular, especially the former. He should get all awards for his final role which was nothing but a masterclass in acting.
100 out of 145 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
BabyIDontCare18 December 2020
I would have much rather seen a proper biopic of Ma Rainey than this movie version of a play where, with the exception of one chap banging on and on about his shoes, very little actually happens.
155 out of 232 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
All soup water, no meat, potatoes, or carrots.
awashhyzo22 December 2020
Great acting but no story; I was ready for the ending after thirty minutes-just a lot of mundane situations and conversations that are forgettable. I Will not repeat this movie.
124 out of 185 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Not a film, just a play
objective-critic19 December 2020
This did not even feel like a play that was adapted for film. It really was just a play that was filmed. The high accolades that most viewers give is due to their love for Viola and Chadwick (which I share), but even their performances could not save the movie. Endless dialogue to drive the story (no real story here) forward. I was really, really looking forward to this, but it was sadly extremely disappointing.
105 out of 156 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Boring and over-the-top
truthspeaker-178256 February 2021
This is the second over-praised film I have seen in recent times, the first being One a night in Miami. Both address black issues and history and both have valid points to make. Unfortunately, both are also dull as ditchwater, full of overacting, stuffed with inconsequential dialogue, characters getting angry with each other over nothing and over-the-top dramatics.

When I say "angry with each other over nothing", I mean that situations explode in second and people shout or fight with each other over things that have not been emotionally conveyed to the audience. Very often, due to the directors of these two films sticking with the limited scope of filming a stage production, they both feel like a parody of a stage play.

The scenes with Viola Davis feel most worthy of being on screen because she has an understated honesty in her performance and a valid underlying statement to make. But what helps this the most is being outside of the filmed stage play environment.

Unfortunately, most of the film involves her band in a room, telling boring, scenery chewing stories. I don't care what the subject matter is if I'm not given a reason to emotionally invest in the characters. Anyone can put a talking head on-screen and have them tell a sob story.

The main issue is that not enough has been done to take the stage play material and make it fit for cinema. Take, as an example, A Few Good Men, which feels nothing like the stage play it is based on.

There are reasons why stage acting is different to screen acting; you need to project voice and action from a stage to reach the audience at the back of the theatre. You don't need to be as forceful on screen. SO CHANGE THE PERFORMANCE!

The epitome of this over-the-topness comes when Chadwick Boseman shouts at God for a prolonged period and expects a reply.

Theatre adaptationists: must do better.
35 out of 48 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Who's story was that about??
mbenzicron27 April 2021
I am confused, was this movie about Ma Rainey or about Levee the trumpet player, because throughout the movie most of the time it was more about him than about Ma Rainey. At least to me it was cause the on,y time I saw her in the movie was when she was singing and the rest of the time was about Levee complaining and feeling sorry for himself. Dont get me wrong, Chad Boseman did a great job playing the role but I expected more out of the movie than watching this guy rambling and fighting. After all the title of the movie IS Ma Rainey's Black Bottom but hardly saw her throughout the movie. So again whose story was that her's or his?
11 out of 13 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Disappointing! Should have been callend the Trumpeter's Lament
claudiaraesherman19 December 2020
I love Viola Davis. I was so disappointed. First, this play should not have been made into a movie. It doesn't work. Plays do not convert into movies easily and this one fails monumentally. Poor Viola. This was the worst thing I have ever seen her do. Perhaps I expected too much because of the title. It was not about her, but the trumpet player played by Chadwick Boseman. He was ok, but the script was bad. Again, the problem was trying to make a play into a movie.
114 out of 176 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
paulgordonmagic23 December 2020
The opening scene depicts five characters over-talking each other at the rate of knots and talking nonsense to boot. The film is based on a play and - sadly - has the feel of a play. The story is dull. Snoozefest.
94 out of 146 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Please, stop talking
sofbon19 March 2021
Endless meaningless monologues, no cohesion, no story, no character depth. Didn't find the meaning of the whole thing, what was the point of that movie?
26 out of 36 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Not Oscar worthy!
MegaMaexn29 December 2020
Sorry, but I have to disagree with most people here, it's not a great movie at all, mediocre at best. The impact is weak, storytelling is slow and most of the acting seems just like a badly rehearsed stage performance. There is too much talking, not enough acting. Too much anger, not enough music. Too much ambition, not enough delivery. I had high hopes but was left disappointed and frustrated by the missed chance to tell a passionate and engrossing story, especially the ending leaves you shockingly unfulfilled.
23 out of 32 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
The Trailer is Great. The Film is Not
mikemarineguy-343-91128022 December 2020
Where was the musical story of Ma Rainey? Don't look here. After a brief exciting open to this film you are ready to be taken on this journey to discover this legendary title woman and her music. Yet, the journey ends or really never begins.

Talent can save this misleading title and trailer. It's a shame. It could have been an enlightening, entertaining joy ride!
69 out of 112 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Death = good.
noahgibbobaker30 March 2021
My favourite thing about 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom' is actually the Coca cola™ advert. At first it seemed fisted in to get coke money but it actually served a larger purpose and added some much-needed variety to a really uninteresting fairly repetitive movie.

I also loved learning about Ma Rainey afterwards, she was a pretty amazing figure and would be even now, 82 years after her death; I didn't like Chadwick Boseman much, his performance was decent but it's been bigged up to no end because of his passing. You see this kind of thing all the time when an artist of any kind dies, they're work is suddenly amazing when maybe it wasn't previously.
9 out of 11 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Great stars can't save this turkey
beladornon225 December 2020
Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman deserve so much more than the mediocre play provided by August Wilson in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, now streaming on Netflix. Sadly, this play will receive far more attention than it deserves because Viola Davis is one of our greatest actresses, and Chadwick Boseman died untimely young.

Set in Chicago in 1927, the play features the only thing August Wilson is good at: an endless round of rage-fueled soliloquys. There is no dramatic tension, and no epiphany or transformation. The title may belong to Ma Rainey, but the playwright teats her like the producers in the recording booth: a novelty performer, a temporary freak show. We know almost nothing about her life at the end of the play.

The same can be said of most of the other characters, except the jazz quartet waiting to perform. At 43, Boseman is far too old to play the idiot-child, but that's the role he takes on with Levee, a trumpet player with a tragic past and no impulse control. Sure, Chadwick Boseman plays the part well, what little there is of it. Most of the play is posturing, griping, and bickering, with long soliloquys about how awful it is to be Black in America thrown in every ten minutes.

Those who've seen any other August Wilson material are very familiar with everything in this play, with the exception of Ma herself, presented as a hideous freak with waist-length prosthetic breasts and metal teeth; Rainey's there because the public wants the blues. Wilson tells us she'll be dumped as soon as her music stops selling, and that's pretty much all he seems to know of this woman. There is another woman in the play, but her character is not important for Wilson to give her a name.

As I said, it's very sad that such superb actors are reduced to playing in shows like this, when they deserve so much better.
21 out of 30 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
In memoriam
gsygsy18 December 2020
First things first. Chadwick Boseman gives a performance like nothing you've ever seen. The rest of the cast, led by the legend that is Viola Davis, is, as might be expected, tip-top, but Mr Boseman flies ever higher in every scene.

The film is based on a famous play by a great playwright who chose to write with a sense of melodrama that can still work in the theatre but somehow feels dated when transfered to the screen. The camera has to cope with the sheer size of performance necessary to capture set-piece speeches, which go against the grain of image-led cinema. Renowned Broadway director George C Wolfe gets the actors to the right temperature, but then has to find a way to make the project cinematic. The solutions here, apart from minimal opening out from the claustrophobia of the recording studio setting, are some mobile camera work and quite a bit of nimble editing. Curiously, though, these strategies simply emphasise the work's stage origins. What do work are the close-ups. They bring us closer to the characters than can ever happen on a stage. With an ensemble as fine as this one, the more close-ups the better.

So, MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM, like the film of Wilson's play FENCES, is not satisfying as a movie, but as a record of a powerful play. Both well worth seeing. MA RAINEY is the greater, because of Chadwick Boseman. What an amazing actor. What a loss. What a legacy.
44 out of 70 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
I don't understand what is the point of this movie
hadiva-7711918 December 2020
Honestly a very sad way to end Chadwick Bosemans legacy, it hurts my soul to think that this may be the last role I might see him in, his acting is stellar as always but the movie had no direction, no topic, no purpose and no conclusion the story seemed to start well and then boom! Flat on its face it all falls down. What a waste
75 out of 126 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
The Blues Singer
Cineanalyst18 December 2020
"Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" is certainly of interest as a biopic of the "Mother of the Blues" Ma Rainey (as played by Viola Davis) and for the last great screen performance from the late Chadwick Boseman as the fictional trumpeter Levee in Ma's band. Beyond this, it's partly hindered as an extension of the stage in the same way that Denzel Washington's adaptation of another of August Wilson's Pittsburg Cycle of plays, "Fences" (2016), was, but this adaptation by Ruben Santiago-Hudson and directed by Goerge C. Wolfe, although still including Washington as a producer, largely transcends its staginess by reflexively being about the process of adapting stage performance to recorded media, from musical concert to recording session--just as the movie is a recorded adaptation from live theatre. Unlike most filmed plays, its theatricality reflects its narrative.

Moreover, it's set in 1927, which, whether or not the filmmakers intended the allusion, was also the year of the film "The Jazz Singer," the heralded first feature-length synchronized sound film and film musical. Apt for a Netflix release about recording music, and, more than that, "The Jazz Singer," among other things, is also about what today might be more-politely termed cultural appropriation, as evidenced most notoriously in the blackface sequence. That 1927 film is about the clashing and harmonizing of cultures in general, really: part silent and part talkie, Judaism and show business, the whiteness of the film's jazz singer and the origins of the music from black musicians as called attention to in the controversial blackface worn by Al Jolson. Point is, some of the same issues are brought up in "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom."

Boseman's Levee wants to play his own, jazzier, more-swinging music as opposed to performing in Ma Rainey's "jug band," while at the same time there's no denying the influence of her blues on the history of popular music, including collaborating with the likes of Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith. Ma also retains her own voice, whereas "Baby, Let Me Have It All" (which with its "jelly rolls" makes me think of Jelly Roll Morton, in addition to how raunchy these old tunes about "rolls" and the titular "bottom" are, but I digress) is coopted by a white band and studio owner. Besides this, the characters take part in a series of theatrical monologues and dialogues on racial issues, religion and other matters, and there's Ma's reported homosexual relationships, one of which was rumored to be with Smith. Again, such a connection may've not been intended--indeed, such an artifact of Jewish identity and white culture would be out of place here in a sense--but the parallels are manifold and felicitous in the sense of cinematic heritage.

Although its reflexivity, including a particular focus on the technical aspects of recording, are what raises this title above a mere filmed play, the costumes and production design also help, and there are a few different locales beyond the record studio to open the play up. Even the cinematography of the sweat on the figures' faces throughout the exhausting performances and hot-summer recording session recommends itself. The opening concert scene is a standout, and it, reportedly, includes the one bit of Davis doing her own singing. The rest said to be performed for by soul singer Maxayn Lewis. The same sources say Boseman actually learned to play the trumpet, although I would be surprised if his playing weren't also aided by modern sound-recording tricks. Regardless, Davis and Boseman headline a superb overall cast. Davis is especially imposing in looking the part of a legendary historical figure. And Boseman is surely the sentimental favorite for a posthumous Oscar this year, and his performance might just very well deserve it. There are a couple moments that are overly stagy--the more sudden outbursts of speechifying in particular, but even that may be followed by a helluva powerful monologue such as of Levee's story of his childhood. Overall, his performance transcends any fun-loving jazzcat stereotype in a similar vein to the picture overcoming its being a filmed play. The business with Levee's obsession with that "trap" door is a neat metaphor in both respects. He and his character become artists. It's a moving conclusion to a career tragically cut far too short. Yet, just as records immortalized the blues singing of Ma Rainey, or these adaptations have done for August Wilson's plays, motion pictures have done likewise for the artistry of Chadwick Boseman.
39 out of 62 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Black Magic...
Xstal28 February 2021
A lesson in the art of acting and film making, as an exceptional cast of extremely talented actors portray several hours in a recording studio, the tensions as taut as any wire, the crimes of the times and their effects on those involved in full view - crimes perpetuated into today, sadly.
18 out of 26 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews

Recently Viewed