Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom ★★

Went full high school class reading The Great Gatsby over Ma’s yellow dress and Levee’s yellow shoes, ...but that was about the main level I felt this movie was at: good for high school class August Wilson discussions. Which has value! But did not find this to be the dazzling cinematic barnstormer Netflix was pitching. Just a perfectly fine, very straightforward play adaptation---very play, very straightforward, very...fine.

Actually, you know what, I may actually be a little disappointed after all. I’m mostly faulting the direction, because I feel like direction is where you can do the work to make Wilson’s script not feel so much like just a series of people delivering their speeches, scenes not feeling like scenes so much as just a setting for a monologue. The actors in this are all so talented, but it felt like they’d been kind of abandoned up there to just Deliver Their Moment on their own, to an empty house. I was reminded too much of live Zoom readings, to be honest, as if the performance privations of the lockdowns this movie was released into had bled back into the tape.

Final coda in the recording studio a gut-punch though---and one of the few parts not taken verbatim from the stage play, which feels like something to consider!

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