In The United States vs Billie Holiday, Andra Day’s impassioned performance as the titular character proves to be the saviour of an otherwise scattered and disjointed film.
It’s evident that Lee Daniels, in his first feature directorial effort since 2013s The Butler, had a bold vision for Billie Holiday: A frenetic biopic of a legendary musician whose struggles with drugs and systemic racism become a metonym for the same social themes of today.
The film foregoes Holiday’s rise to stardom, instead attempting to chronicle the frenetic final decade of her life and career in post-World War II Jim Crowe America. Yet, in the midst of multiple stylistic shifts and spontaneous time jumps, something resembling a coherent story is lost.
That said, Day’s performance as Holiday, both in temperament and performance acumen, is electric – and well-deserving of the accolades it has accumulated thus far. Her performance gives the film its essential emotional beats, but the shortcomings in the pacing and screenplay ultimately hold it back from being as striking as its contemporaries that reflect on similar issues.
Reviewed by Patrick McKenzie