jing’s review published on Letterboxd:
dedicated to chadwick boseman
in celebration of his artistry and his heart
although i had only seen one film starring chadwick boseman, i was heartbroken and shocked when i heard the news about his passing. this film only further highlights his incomparable talent, and is undoubtedly proof that, although he will be terribly missed, he will never be forgotten.
fiery, stirring and thought-provoking, ma rainey’s black bottom is a film that bustles with life and character, all while remaining thoughtful and grounded. even though it’s set mainly on one location and merely spans one afternoon, this movie rarely fails to keep up its pace, almost never giving us a break to recover from its fervent conversations, passionate performances and stunning cinematography.
adapted from a play, the script is undoubtedly one of the film’s strong suits. while it does occasionally become apparent that the intense and fast-paced discussions were originally performed on a stage without a camera as the “eye” into the world, the screenplay overall effortlessly gives the characters the life, motivation, and spirit that they need. be it quick banter, witty clapbacks, fierce assertions or poignant monologues, the writing effortlessly carries the film’s narrative with all its intricacies from beginning to end.
i had some issues with the pacing about 30 minutes into the film, with the initial introduction finished and the characters still in the same room they were in 20 minutes ago, which subsequently made the dialogue that followed feel like it wasn’t really leading anywhere. a few minutes later, however, i figured it was mainly because i wasn’t aware that the story was going to play out at a single location.
the script owes much of its intensity to the phenomenal performances delivered by all the actors involved, with viola davis and chadwick boseman obviously standing out, both given their screen time and pure talent. boseman’s performance alone left me in tears, from the stirring monologue he delivers early on in the film to the final culmination of his character’s emotions, the feelings he portrayed so beautifully never once failed to move me, make me smile or let out a laugh.
one thing i still have to mention before i finish this review: the cinematography!!
the camera keeps up with the witty screenplay, effortlessly moving between different characters, or even just following one character’s emotions as they unfold on screen.
the soft lighting, along with the warm colors of the buildings and costumes, creates an almost melancholic atmosphere, not so much reminiscent of the injustices members of the black community faced in the 1920s, but of the feeling rainey’s music conveys.
poignant, intense, sometimes comedic and full of performances guaranteed to sweep up awards, ma rainey’s black bottom is a carefully crafted film with conversations still relevant today. clocking in at a runtime of just over 90 minutes, it’s neither too long to become tedious, nor too short to leave an impact. beautiful film.
< the prom