Hello, ya’ll. I was about to call this a film review, but it’s not that exactly. This is more of a film rant. Don’t say I never warned you. Okay so let me get to it. A few spoilers ahead.
I wanted so badly to fall in love with this film. But I didn’t. I don’t have a problem with film adaptations. More than sixty percent of films have been adapted from novels or plays, but my chief concern as I watched Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom was that the director didn’t seem to take advantage of everything that film has to offer. Yes, there is the whole business of an audience’s willing suspension of disbelief in the theater and to a certain extent film audiences too, but film directors have much more at their disposal. Just because the playwright sits Levee and the other band members in a small stuffy room, that doesn’t mean the screenwriter and director have to leave them there. Levee, played by the late, talented Chadwick Boseman gives this wonderful speech, providing necessary backstory about his experience with a white man who rapes his mother right before his eyes. Film can visually take us back to Levee’s moment of helplessness; a play cannot. The filmmakers miss an opportunity to open this narrative up, let it breathe a little.
I dozed a couple of times.
Now Viola Davis is the true gem of this movie. She is Ma Rainey. She exudes righteous indignation, swagger, power. When she was on the screen, I sat with rapt attention. My favorite scene was when she and her band members are in the recording studio, and she insists her stuttering nephew say a line at the beginning of the title song. Take after take after take. That was the high point. Wish I could offer more.
Anyhow, the film is worth a watch. I hope all the best for Davis in her Oscar run. Boseman might also be nominated for a strong performance in a so-so flick.