Title – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020)
Director – George C. Wolfe (You’re Not You)
Cast – Chadwick Boseman, Viola Davis, Colman Domingo, Glynn Turman
Plot – Set in 1927, famed blues singer Ma Rainey (Davis) is booked to record an album one hot summer’s day in Chicago, a date made more complicated by her bands newest member Levee (Boseman) who has visions of grandeur in his future, driven by his harsh experiences in life.
“I know what I’m doin’. Let me handle them my way”
Review by Eddie on 22/12/2020
The first installment of August Wilson adaptations backed by Denzel Washington since 2016’s very well received Fences, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom has taken on a whole new significance as a cinematic product due to the untimely and heartbreaking loss of its star Chadwick Boseman.
This time only contributing to the film by a producing reign, with directional duties falling to George C. Wolfe, Washington’s collection of films may never take on such an added significance as Black Bottom does to showcase the exceptional talents of a performer taken far too soon, in what is an awards caliber performance in a production that thrives with his presence but lacks in other areas, making Wolfe’s stagey adaptation an intense watch but not one that is likely to linger.
Sticking very much too Wilson’s original text that features real life singer Ma Rainey (a showy and very sweaty Viola Davis) featuring in a fictional tale that takes place in a recording studio in Chicago on a hot Summer’s day in 1927, Black Bottom at times enthralls as we watch Rainey’s band bicker and banter around her tardy recording studio session, with Boseman’s sassy and talented horn player Levee exploring his past and talking about his future in a landscape that wasn’t one to provide a fair playing field.
Founded on some incredible monologues about his parents and God’s seeming abandonment in his life, Boseman may’ve well known this could be one of his last chances to showcase his skills in a film and he saves one of his best turns till last.
Knowing what we know now, its clear to see Boseman’s physical appearance and ever wide smile showing chinks and scars of a man battling an horrific disease but his charisma and energy is still there to see and its not going to be at all surprising to see the well-loved performer appear in many awards ceremonies in the coming months with this turn here far more memorable than his overrated work in the unduly praised Da 5 Bloods.
The rest of Wolfe’s film outside of Boseman’s commanding turn doesn’t leave much to write home about, Davis is her typically assured self even if her singing scenes don’t come off as totally convincing and the films period costumes and production design is high class but there’s not a lot within this product as a movie that does anything much a stage play couldn’t of done with previous Wilson offering Fences managing to make itself feel bigger than its small confines through smartly designed direction and a more focused narrative.
At days end Black Bottom tackles some always timely issues of race and is a fitting swansong to a great talent but its not a film that is deserving of any of the extra praise its poised to get due to the surrounding circumstances of its release.
Final Say –
This latest Netflix prestige drama is more proficient than we’ve come to expect from the streaming service but despite its fine central performances, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is still lacking a certain magic and scope that would’ve made it a truly deserving awards contender.
3 1/2 stuttering nephews out of 5