The United States VS Billie Holiday features one of the best performances of the year. Andra Day’s performance as the iconic Ms. Holiday is towering, soulful, and embodies all of who Billie was and represented to the African American Community. There are times in the film where one can help but wonder if channeled her from the great beyond. No one can deny how fantastic Day is in this role and seeing the HFPA, the CCA, and most likely the AMPAS in a few weeks recognize this is validation for Director Lee Daniels who had to convince Ms. Day to take on the role. Going into the film, it was hard to picture her in the role, after the credits ended it was hard to imagine anyone else in this role.
While some have argued that the narrative of the film is a bit bloated, I’d respond by asking what would you have a cut? Daniels’s take on Holiday wasn’t to tell her life story but to shine a light on how troubled, deeply flawed, yet important Billie was. In order to understand that, we had to see the story from multiple sides. We had to see how her sadness drove her to an addiction she couldn’t kick. We had to see how different she was when she found love in Jimmy (played brilliantly by Trevante Rhodes). Seeing how she handle pressure from the Federal Government and especially agent Harry J. Anslinger (Garrett Hedlund) who was blinded by his own bigotry. No one cared about her drug habit until she started singing about the atrocities occurring in the south. What the film does highlight is how Holiday even in the midst of battling her own demons knew that what she was doing was right. Being right sometimes comes with unjust consequences.
The United States VS Billie Holiday is out today on Hulu.