A lesbian teenager unsuccessfully juggles multiple identities to avoid rejection from her friends and family. Mounting pressure from home, school, and within wears the line between her personas thin with explosive consequences.
It's 1959 in a seedy bar in Philadelphia, and Billie Holiday is giving one of her last performances interlaced with salty, often humorous, reminiscences to project a riveting portrait of the lady and her music 4 months before her death.
Fifteen true life stories from people struggling with love, loss, homelessness, alcoholism, betrayal and suicidal tendencies. This film explores those moments, big and small, in which ... See full summary »
I knew nothing about Bessie Smith going into this movie. And after watching it I feel like I still know next to nothing. Bessie is the story of legendary '20s and '30s blues singer Bessie Smith. We meet Smith as she is starting out, playing small time nightclubs. She has a great voice and plenty of ambition, but she's going nowhere fast. That is until she spies Ma Rainey (Mo'Nique, stealing all the scenes) and learns to build her act up.
The problem with the film is that it tries to cover too much ground. It covers about 20 years in Bessie's life, from her start working in small clubs, to her success and decline and eventual comeback. The lack of focus makes the film feel abrupt as their are just too many characters and not enough of a through line as people come in and out of Bessie's life.
Queen Latifah does a good job as Smith. But ironically she ends up completely upstaged by Mo'nique even though in real life the reverse is true. Mo'nique has a small role and only appears in about the first quarter of a movie, but she simply owns every inch of the screen when she's on it. She has a beautiful voice, you can tell she's a singer just by the way she speaks, and a commanding swagger. Once she leaves she takes a lot of excitement with her. She leaves the impression that she could have handled a film about Ma Rainey. The rest of the cast is solid. Tika Sumpter looks gorgeous in a mostly nothing role, playing Smith's long time companion. Michael K. Williams manages to make a solid impression as a brash bodyguard turned lover as Smith's husband.
The real star of the show are the costumes. Note perfect, sumptuous and gorgeous they make every scene appealing and are always photographed to perfection. Even while the rest of the movie disappoints the clothing is always there to give something for the eye to enjoy.
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