Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom ★★★½

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is a good film but frustratingly not a great film. It is more stage-play than film for long stretches. The dialogue crackles, the direction does not. It is flatly shot, with a televisual aspect, solely designed to allow the actors to chew over and throw out August Wilson's undeniable words. Though, it doesn't quite have the overwhelming force of Wilson's Fences, it is still a pleasure to listen to and consider.

The performances have their own issues. On the whole, they are good, but when you have nothing else to focus on there minor problems become stark. Viola Davis is really good as Ma Rainey, but is hampered by the dubbed singing. She cannot make the film transcend, because it feels like the singer and the actor are different people.

Chadwick Boseman, tips from powerful to overwrought too easily. He hams the monologues, but is great in the more comic moments. It is a good performance, but lacks the understatement of a great performance. I believe he is tipped to be an award winner this/next year and while I don't begrudge him and his family any awards, I think had he not very sadly died, then he wouldn't really be in the conversation. Though, it is certainly an interesting turn and suggests he could have had quite the career. It is a crying shame for cinema his early death.

Ultimately, the film is well worth seeing but it is also too thin to be considered much beyond the first viewing. It is 90 pleasurable minutes, but I think it needed to burst out of its stage origins and gives us more Ma Rainey, more songs, more locations, more conflict, and, yes, even more dialogue.

Good, though. I definitely thought it was good.

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