In a searing artist portrait of noted musician and civil rights activist Billie Holiday in The United States Vs. Billie Holiday, director Lee Daniels presents a completely 360 portrait of an artist encountering both the good and bad, her dreams and her demons and this film hits you with deep and emotional impact.
In the 1940s, Billie Holiday is targeted by the government in an effort to racialize the war on drugs, ultimately aiming to stop her from singing her controversial song “Strange Fruit”.
Never one to shy away from harsh subject matter, and truthful depictions, direction Lee Daniels (Precious, Lee Daniels’ The Butler) takes audiences inside the mind, heart, music and soul of Billie Holiday, one of America’s greatest ever soul singers, and this film’s narrative definitely sticks with audiences. Focusing on her battle with her inner demons and the need to bring a call to arms to the suffering of the African-American community, The United States Vs. Billie Holiday is an extremely heavy and emotional watch, and Daniels is not shy about leaving anything out of this emotional true story and the results hit you hard as an audience member.
All praise must be levelled upon newcomer Andra Day as Billie Holiday and her performance as the famed singer is nothing short of transformative. Stepping into the role of Holiday, Day completely transforms into the iconic singer, and her performance is breathtaking, raw and without equal. You are not merely watching an actress play Billie Holiday, but instead, you are watching an actress who has allowed herself to inhabit Holiday, both in appearance and character, and the results are flawless. Part of the success of Day’s performance as Holiday centres on her ability to channel the famed singer’s voice, and this is a key part of her transformative performance.
Day is incredibly brave with her performance as Billie and holds nothing back from audiences. Casting a wild emotional arc as this troubled character, Day goes from light to dark in an instant and showcases a very complicated character. From a blissful romance shared with her lover Jimmy Fletcher (Trevante Rhodes), who has his own complicated secrets, to the full-on horrors of heroin fuelled binges, Day holds nothing back in her performance here as Billie, and audiences will be enveloped by the strength of character and resilience that she gives to this woman.
The United States Vs. Billie Holiday is a hard-hitting and intense portrait of a woman who refused to back down from what she believed in and whole-heartedly committed to the message that was inside of her. It features a performance from an actress at the top of her game, and a director who delivers a high level of emotional energy.
Image: Universal Pictures