Lady Sings the Blues

"Good"

Lady Sings the Blues Review


Billie Holiday experts have lots of quibbles with Lady Sings the Blues, but this melodramatic biopic has plenty of emotional payoffs, even if they're slightly obscured by the triumph-and-tragedy clichés of the heavily fictionalized screenplay.

Credit Miss Diana Ross for her guts. In this, her first screen performance, she tosses all vanity aside, kicking things off by wearing a straitjacket and writhing around on the floor of an asylum (that writhing earned her an Oscar nomination). What has brought Billie Holiday to this lowly state? The flashbacks will tell us.

We next see Ross as a teenage Billie, a rape victim who's been tossed out of her Baltimore home and forced to take a job as a maid -- and a working girl -- in a Harlem brothel. It's there that she meets the in-house Piano Man (Richard Pryor), who encourages her to sing her way to success. That she does, but it's not an easy road. She racks up three marriages, although the only one depicted in the film is to gambler Louis McKay (Billy Dee Williams), and eventually heads off on a tour of the South with a white band. This being the '40s, she finds herself the victim of terrible racism, and drink and drugs are her ticket to a sort of inner peace.

Surrounded by people who seem to want to help her, Billie only gets worse as the years pass, and it's not until she finds herself in the straitjacket that she realizes it's time to find a path to redemption... if it's not too late.

Of course, music plays a major role throughout the film, and Ross sings many Billie Holiday classics along the way. She doesn't dare to try to impersonate her. Instead, we get the typically nasal Ross delivery but with much more gravitas than she musters in the typical Motown pop hit. Ross and director Sidney J. Furie seem to feel that the slower the song, the more serious the mood, so at times the film seems to be grinding almost to a halt. Ross doesn't look anything like Holiday either (she's far too pretty), but she leaps over these hurdles with a measure of grace and talent that she has never again shown on screen.

Billy Dee Williams is equally good, transforming from smooth-talking ladies' man into a caring if somewhat overwhelmed husband. As for Pryor, it's a shame he didn't take or couldn't find other serious roles. The guy could act, and Piano Man's own tragic arc is painful to witness.

Many people who crossed Billie's path over the years -- Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson, and more -- don't show up in Lady Sings the Blues. Historians don't like that, but this isn't history. It's a tragic love story that follows the rise and fall and rise and fall of forceful personalities who lived tough lives that in the end didn't last all that long. The movie ends on an up note, but Billie Holiday was dead by 44.

The DVD includes a commentary by Furie, Barry Gordy, and Shelly Berger, a behind-the-scenes documentary, and deleted scenes.



Lady Sings the Blues

Facts and Figures

Run time: 144 mins

In Theaters: Thursday 12th October 1972

Distributed by: Paramount Pictures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 75%
Fresh: 9 Rotten: 3

IMDB: 7.1 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Sidney J. Furie

Producer: , , James S. White

Starring: as Billie Holiday, as Louis McKay, as Piano Man, James T. Callahan as Reg Hanley (as James Callahan), as Harry, Sid Melton as Jerry, Virginia Capers as Mama Holiday, Yvonne Fair as Yvonne, as The Madame

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Wind River Movie Review

Wind River Movie Review

After writing the superb Sicario and Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan moves back into...

The Vault Movie Review

The Vault Movie Review

Filmmakers Dan Bush and Conal Byrne attempt a mash-up of a frantic heist movie with...

Goon: Last of the Enforcers Movie Review

Goon: Last of the Enforcers Movie Review

The 2012 Canadian comedy Goon was one of those surprising little films that snuck up...

Detroit Movie Review

Detroit Movie Review

After The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal reteam to...

Logan Lucky Movie Review

Logan Lucky Movie Review

Good news: Steven Soderbergh's well-publicised retirement from directing only lasted about four years. He's back...

American Made Movie Review

American Made Movie Review

An enjoyably freewheeling tone and Tom Cruise's star wattage combine to make this an entertaining...

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power Movie Review

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power Movie Review

It's been a decade since Al Gore's wake-up-call documentary won the Oscar. And here he...

Advertisement
The Hitman's Bodyguard Movie Review

The Hitman's Bodyguard Movie Review

It really doesn't matter that this movie is utterly ridiculous, because the central pairing of...

Final Portrait Movie Review

Final Portrait Movie Review

A relaxed, amusing true story about noted Swiss painter and sculptor Alberto Giacometti, this sharply...

Tom of Finland Movie Review

Tom of Finland Movie Review

Finnish artist Tuoko Laaksonen used the name "Tom of Finland" as he drew explicit illustrations...

A Ghost Story Movie Review

A Ghost Story Movie Review

Filmmaker David Lowery reunites the stars from his offbeat Western Ain't Them Bodies Saints for...

Atomic Blonde Movie Review

Atomic Blonde Movie Review

From the co-director of John Wick, this similarly styled action romp puts Charlize Theron front...

Girls Trip Movie Review

Girls Trip Movie Review

This movie's premise basically sounds like The Hangover with added black girl power. But it's...

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie Movie Review

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie Movie Review

There's so much manic energy in this animated action comedy that it can't help but...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.