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The United States vs. Billie Holiday | Review

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Lee Daniels returns to the director’s chair with another emotionless, shamelessly manipulative biopic containing lots of style and very little substance. His latest film, The United States vs. Billie Holiday, attempts to chronicle the true story of jazz pioneer Billie Holiday (Andra Day), whose political song “Strange Fruit” makes her the target of a Federal Investigation, led by Harry Anslinger (Garrett Hedlund). Anslinger is trying to silence Holiday’s voice as a black artist denouncing the cruel act of Lynching by using her heroin addiction as the source of her problems. He hires Jimmy Fletcher (Trevante Rhodes), who will, at first, arrest Holiday and try to pin her down but will soon develop great affection for her and start to get involved in a relationship. If the film solely focused on Holiday’s career as an artist and the moral anguish she had to face as a drug addict and survivor of abuse, it might’ve worked. However, The United States vs. Billie Holiday is an overlong and terribly pretentious slog that tells absolutely nothing worth mentioning on the life of one of the greatest jazz artists that ever lived.

The United States vs. Billie Holiday' review: Andra Day delivers the high  notes in Lee Daniels' disjointed biography - CNN

Right from its opening framing device, where Holiday tells her life story to overzealous journalist Reginald Lord Devine (played by the always immaculate Leslie Jordan), the film already has no idea what it wants to say about Holiday’s life and portray in her fight against systemic injustice from the FBI. Most of the runtime is filled with tedious sequences that don’t amount to much. Holiday is searched and arrested by the FBI multiple times. None of these sequences have any particular meaning to the story aside from pointing to the audience that the Federal Government targeted her due to her drug addiction, Holiday talks to her supplier multiple times about how much she needs heroin, Jimmy Fletcher plays a game of will I/won’t I persecute Holiday or have a relationship with her, without any moments of character growth.

One of the more interesting aspects of a biopic is to see an iconic figure’s journey and see how their life experiences changed their emotional state and way of thinking. None of that is found in this movie, save for a few wonderful sequences where Andra Day brilliantly covers Holiday’s songs, particularly the one where she sings Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do. However, those sequences are permeated with endless cross-fades instead of crafting aesthetically remarkable scenes that uplift the audience while hearing Andra Day sing. Day gives the film’s only memorable performance, mainly due to her incredible singing skills, as the quieter moments are filled with endless melodrama and a saccharine script. None of the drama particularly “hits” since most of the supporting characters (particularly the FBI agents) is highly caricatured through a silly performance from Garrett Hedlund.

United States vs. Billie Holiday: Fact vs. Fiction in Lee Daniels' New Movie

At the end of the film, Daniels didn’t need to paint Anslinger as the “evil white federal agent,” archival footage does it for him, showing the federal government’s blatant hypocrisy when John F. Kennedy awards Anslinger an Outstanding Record Citation. At the same time, his entire career was based on systemic racism, prosecuting African-Americans by planting drugs only because of their race. It feels like the only moment where Daniels wants to say something about injustice and racism. The only time, in fact, where his message comes through is extremely clear to the audience. Billie Holiday died while being handcuffed on a bed by a racist federal agent whose sole goal was to persecute black people to preserve the white race’s domination by any means necessary, using the war on drugs as an excuse to arrest them after planting drugs on their property. It’s a timely message, particularly after a year filled with racial tensions in the United States, a country rooted in systemic racism and injustice for marginalized communities.

This is, however, the only moment where The United States vs. Billie Holiday soars past its terrible script, filled with endless clichés and underdeveloped ideas. Nothing interesting is explicitly (or implicitly) told about Billie Holiday’s life as an artist. She’s a “lady” and a “drug addict” are the only elements we’ll ever know about her life, in a film with a runtime of TWO HOURS AND TEN MINUTES! There was no excuse for Lee Daniels and screenwriter Suzan-Lori Parks to write a truly compelling and timely biopic on the tumultuous life of one of jazz’s greatest artists, yet, we have a completely wasted movie that could’ve definitely worked if it was made by a better filmmaker (and screenwriter). Billie Holiday deserved better. That’s all.

The United States vs. Billie Holiday is now available to stream on Hulu.

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Comic Book Movies

Marvel Studios’ Echo | Official Trailer — Disney + and Hulu

Maya Lopez must face her past, reconnect with her Native American roots and embrace the meaning of family and community if she ever hopes to move forward.

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Genre:

TV Mini Series

Release Date:

January 2024

Streaming:

Disney +, Hulu

Cast:

Alaqua Cox, Zahn McClarnon, Vincent D’Onofrio

Plot Summary:

Maya Lopez must face her past, reconnect with her Native American roots and embrace the meaning of family and community if she ever hopes to move forward.

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Hulu

First Look | White Men Can’t Jump – Jack Harlow

A remake of the 1992 film about a pair of basketball hustlers who team up to earn extra cash.

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Genre:

Comedy, Drama, Sport

Release Date:

May 19, 2023 (Hulu)

Director:

Calmatic

Cast:

Lance Reddick, Jack Harlow, Andrew Schulz, Laura Harrier

Plot Summary:

A remake of the 1992 film about a pair of basketball hustlers who team up to earn extra cash.

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Comedy

Meryl Streep Joins the Cast for Season 3 of Hulu’s ‘Only Murders in the Building

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Many were surprised when the Season 2 finale of Hulu comedy, Only Murders in the Building revealed that Paul Rudd would be joining the series for its upcoming season, however, it seems his casting may have just been topped. According to a tweet from the show’s Twitter account, it appears that Oscar-winning actress Meryl Streep (Out of Africa, August: Osage County) will join the cast led by Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez for Season 3 of Only Murders in the Building.

One can believe that Streep stumbled into the series similar to how she did for Season 2 of HBO’s Big Little Lies. With the latter show, Streep was a fan of the mysterious female-led drama and was written into the sophomore season. You wouldn’t be hard pressed to believe that Streep was probably a fan of the beloved comedy series and might want to join in the hijinks along with friends, Steve Martin and Martin Short. Streep will also appear in the upcoming AppleTV+ anthology series, Extrapolations in March.

The original tweet revealed that the third season of Only Murders in the Building has just begun filming. The show has been nominated for tons of awards thus far and with growing popularity as well as the additions of Streep and Rudd to the cast, anything can happen in the murder mystery program. Season 2 released back in June so we can probably expect Season 3 to begin streaming in Summer 2023. 

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