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

Swallows and Amazons Movie Review

Swallows and Amazons Movie Review

After a number of films, TV series and stage adaptations, Arthur Ransome's beloved 1930 novel...

David Brent: Life on the Road Movie Review

David Brent: Life on the Road Movie Review

The original BBC sitcom The Office ran for 14 episodes from 2001 to 2003, and...

The Childhood of a Leader Movie Review

The Childhood of a Leader Movie Review

Bold and intelligent, this dark drama is a challenging portrait of the making of an...

Pete's Dragon Movie Review

Pete's Dragon Movie Review

This hugely enjoyable adventure is a loose remake of the 1977 Disney hit that blended...

The Shallows Movie Review

The Shallows Movie Review

With a simple premise and plenty of visual style, Spanish filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown) takes...

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates Movie Review

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates Movie Review

Watching this gross-out comedy, it's clear that the gifted cast and crew had a great...

Nerve Movie Review

Nerve Movie Review

With a premise that feels almost eerily current, this stylish thriller revolves around a phone...

Advertisement
The Carer Movie Review

The Carer Movie Review

Brian Cox gets the role of a lifetime in this warm comedy about living life...

Born to Be Blue Movie Review

Born to Be Blue Movie Review

Writer-director Robert Budreau takes a stylised approach to this biopic of the legendary jazz artist...

Jason Bourne Movie Review

Jason Bourne Movie Review

It's been nine years since Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass collaborated on The Bourne Ultimatum,...

The Commune [Kollektivet] Movie Review

The Commune [Kollektivet] Movie Review

Veteran Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg (Festen, The Hunt) returns to a smaller homegrown story after...

The BFG Movie Review

The BFG Movie Review

For his adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic, Steven Spielberg reunited with screenwriter Melissa Mathison,...

Finding Dory Movie Review

Finding Dory Movie Review

It's been 13 years since the release of the Disney/Pixar hit Finding Nemo, and filmmaker...

Star Trek Beyond Movie Review

Star Trek Beyond Movie Review

This is where the Star Trek franchise officially shifts from thoughtful drama into thunderous action....

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.