The Reel House’s review published on Letterboxd:
“God can kiss my ass.”
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is the new film directed by George C. Wolfe and features the final performance by the amazing Chadwick Boseman.
This really is a film that is being highlighted mainly because of the critically acclaimed performances. The film has a great ensemble cast but is led mainly by Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman.
Viola Davis is a fantastic performer, she obviously tried a lot with this movie, she changed her physical appearance by gaining a lot of weight but I found her to be...... subpar in this film. I’m sure that Davis will get a lot of award nominations and even wins. Davis isn’t bad in the film, I just found her performance to be disappointing, judging from her other work. Boseman on the other hand is absolutely incredible. Boseman sadly died from a four year battle with cancer earlier this year, while this film was in post production. He is a talent that is sorely missed. Boseman has left an amazing legacy and all this film does is make that legacy stronger. This may be the best performance I ever saw from Boseman and I’m sure that he will get nominated and probably win. Boseman has charm, gumption, incredible timing and ferocious intensity when he needs to be. R.I.P.
The costume design, makeup and hairstyling all need to be highlighted as well, as all are masterfully done and really create the slick, authentic tone that the film carries. All of the production design and technical elements bring us further into this time frame and transport us into the setting of the film.
Sadly for a very interesting story and an extremely interesting part in history, the film can be at points uninteresting and extremely meandering.
The film is very obviously adapted from the play by August Wilson but unlike films such as Richard Linklaters “Tape” or Rob Reiners “A Few Good Men”, this film doesn’t showcase any reason why it needed to be adapted into the medium that is film. The film doesn’t have any visual flair or aptitude that makes it feel any different from watching the play itself. Some things work in a play that don’t work in film, similarly to how some things in a novel will not transfer itself well into film. ‘Ma Rainey’ has many of these moments and it serves as a hindrance to the final outcome.
The direction by George C. Wolfe for the most part feels stiff, weightless and artificial. George C. Wolfe isn’t necessarily a bad director, in fact he has won multiple awards throughout the years for directing plays but I do not for the life of me understand why they wouldn’t have gotten someone else as they could have added something different or unique to this film instead of just releasing something that is along the lines of just the play itself. The introduction of the film has some visual style and panache but everything else from the direction just feels lacking.
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is mainly a showcase of what was Chadwick Bosemans immensely gifted set of skills as an actor, there are some scenes in here with him that absolutely blew me away. Levee could have been nothing more than just a one dimensional villain but Boseman transforms this character into feeling less like a villain but a victim.
“I was playing the song, the way I felt it.”