Andra Day is so good as Billie Holiday in Lee Daniels’ ‘The United States Vs. Billie Holiday’ that you are with her every step of the way. She gives her all to make sure that the Billie Holiday we see here is as full, vivid and sympathetic, even if the Billie Holiday she portrays here is vaguely written and cartoonish.You can kind fo feel sorry for her, and I guess for Holiday. What the film doesn’t capture is what made Holiday tick – we see she is a great singer but we don’t see her and her artistry. What propelled her to her art?
But I guess that’s not what Daniels was interested at. The screenplay, written by Suzan Lori Parks, shows Holiday as a victim of racial discrimination, and was targeted because this is a singer who insisted on singing ‘Strange Fruit,’ a song about lynching. They said it incites violence – of the wrong kind.
The film also shows Holiday wallowing in misery – we never see her triumphs as a singer, besides fleeting shots of adoring concert goers and autograph seekers. I wanted to see more of her relationships – what drew her to Tallulah Bankhead? Holiday was pansexual becfore that word had any real meaning, yet that fact was side tracked and treated just in passing. There is so muich wasted opportunity here – we should have seen a legend, not a sick drug addict. Day’s performance is raw and inspiring, and it may be worth your trip, but I don’t know if it’s worth staying.