Thursday, May 30, 2024

Review: Singer Andra Day Secures the Fifth Oscar Spot With a Star Turn in “The United States vs. Billie Holiday”


It’s maybe a coincidence that Andra Day’s “Rise Up” rose up to number 1 again on iTunes this week. A great single, the record gives her a signature original hit forever.

That would be all she’d need if Andra Day were just going to be a great singer. But she’s starring as Billie Holiday in Lee Daniels’ “The United States vs. Billie Holiday” and gives a star performance. She almost certainly secures herself the fifth Oscar spot alongside Viola Davis, Frances McDormand, Carey Mulligan, and either Amy Adams or Vanessa Kirby. (I’d pick Adams, no offense to Kirby.)

“The United States vs. Billie Holiday” isn’t perfect, but with Day’s performance, the supporting cast, the level of music production, etc it’s pretty damn good. Most people don’t know anything about the famed singer, how she suffered, what a trailblazer she was, or the importance of her own signature song, “Strange Fruit.”

Daniels and screenwriter Suzan-Lori Parks have taken a fairly difficult story with many complexities and managed to get the gist of it. Even Holiday couldn’t complain about it. They’ve conveyed the important parts of her story to an audience that probably only has a vague idea of Holiday’s importance.

The supporting cast– Trevante Rhodes, Natasha Lyonne, Erik LaRay Harvey, etc — are all spot on. But the movie is all about Day. She is brave, indeed. She not only dropped 39 pounds, changed her own singing style, but makes a debut acting performance that includes a lot of R rated stuff few would do. And she’s so convincingly in the skin of the character, it’s remarkable. You’d think she’d been to Julliard for acting classes, Yale Rep, and ten years in the theater.

“The United States vs. Billie Holiday” premieres on Hulu, but I sure hope we see it in theaters one day. And I can’t wait to listen to the soundtrack.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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