Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020) Review

I love the blues, I love Biographies and I love Chadwick Boseman.  So this just added up to a whole lot of awesome in my book.

Certificate: 15

Director: George C. Wolfe

Screenwriter: Ruben Santiago-Hudson, August Wilson (based on the play by)

Starring: Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman, Colman Domingo

Genre: Drama, Music

Runtime: 94 Minutes

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Reviewed by: Pearl

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Tensions and temperatures rise over the course of an afternoon recording session in 1920s Chicago. Late to the session, the fearless, fiery Ma engages in a battle of wills with her white manager and producer over control of her music. As the band waits in the studio’s claustrophobic rehearsal room, ambitious trumpeter Levee spurs his fellow musicians into an eruption of stories revealing truths that will forever change the course of their lives. Adapted from two-time Pulitzer Prize winner August Wilson’s play, MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM celebrates the transformative power of the blues and the artists who refuse to let society’s prejudices dictate their worth… Written by Netflix.

The Music in this film was going to bet me excited before I had even seen the cast list.  Anything with Blues or Jazz and you have my undivided attention.  But then you add amazing front runners like Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman, and you just know that it is going to be something truly special.  And it really, really was. 

Taking place only in a handful of sets, the film really relies on the performances of its actors to keep you engaged.  There is not a plot so to speak, it’s more of an exploration of the characters, and so if the characters aren’t brought to life adequately, there would be no substance to the film.  Luckily though both Davis and Boseman do absolutely fantastic work here.  I am tipping them both for a good handful of award nominations this year.  Boseman has some really emotional scenes to deliver, and one monologue in particular that is incredibly impactful, and he delivers it so well, with he camera right up on his face.  It is a great scene.  Viola Davis plays our titular character and she is just in command of every scene she is in. 

I do think that some of the smaller characters had more screen time and therefore had more developed personalities.  There were hints of some really great stories to be told there, and I realise that the story is adapted from a play and therefore that was all they had to work with.  But it does seem like a shame to waste such potential.

A great film and a great final performance by Chadwick Boseman, I would recommend seeing it if you haven’t already.

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