The United States vs Billie Holiday had all the 2021 awards buzz. However, although it often falls shy of its subject’s transcendence, Andra Day’s performance offers brilliant compensation.
As much as I was excited to follow the life of another legend with this movie, I was heavily disappointed, sometimes even bored. The United States vs Billie Holiday follows Holiday during her career as she is targeted by the Federal Department of Narcotics. The department launched an undercover sting operation led by black Federal Agent Jimmy Fletcher, with whom she had a tumultuous affair.
However, if it weren’t for the genius performance of Andra Day as Billie Holiday, this move would have been a total disaster. Andrea Day captures Holiday on and off screen and holds us with each gaze, particularly through the full performance of ‘Strange Fruit’.
From the general lack of character development to the weird mixing of present and past, director Lee Daniels clearly missed the mark in this movie.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the music and learning about Holiday’s tough childhood and drug addiction, but this loving portrait sheds little new light on the star. No thanks to the script or the direction. I must also add that I loved mixing the movie footage with real life footage here and there. However, it often confuses the viewer rather than helping them understand the storytelling.
Should you watch it?
Despite good intentions and an impressive performance by Andra Day, the movie is uninspiring, poorly written, and so confused with itself. If anything, watch this movie for Day’s performance and the music.