Ma Rainey's Black Bottom Review
I recently settled down to watch the Oscar Nominated film Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, and there is so much to say. Let's get into it
I first want to take a moment to remember Chadwick Boseman. Boseman was one of the stars in this film, and one of the most prominent names in Hollywood thanks to his films Black Panther, 42, and Get On Up. This past summer, Boseman tragically lost his life to colon cancer at the age of 43. Boseman left behind a legacy that Hollywood, and the world, will never forget. Thank you for all you did, Chadwick. We miss you.
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, directed by George C. Wolfe, and adapted from the play with the same name by August Wilson, follows the blues singer Ma Rainey and her band recording for a record. Set in Chicago, 1927, the production value for this movie was astounding, right down to Ma Rainey's Coca Cola bottle. Within the first few minutes of this film, you see all that it can and will be just by its set pieces. I don't want to spoil your viewing experience, so I will just give a brief rundown of two of my favorite sets: 1) The hotel Ma Rainey was staying at, even if we only saw it for a brief time, was astounding. The outfits everyone wore, the furniture, the lobby, the lights, the windows, heck, even the stairs, all looked beautiful. 2) Ma Rainey's car gets hit, so she goes to figure out what happened. Everything about this set design in this scene was wonderful to look at, especially the cars. They looked as though they were plucked right out of the 1920s, polished and seamless. The cars weren't even supposed to be the main focus of the scene, showing the level of care the filmmakers put into this film.
This film features the EGOT winner Viola Davis as the singer Ma Rainey, and Chadwick Boseman as Levee, Rainey's headstrong trumpet player. Davis flawlessly brings power and emotion into her performance as Rainey. She truly loses herself in the music, and it was incredible to see her go from cold to passionate in the blink of an eye. I will not be surprised if she takes home her second Oscar this year. Also, I am willing to place all my chips on the table to say that Chadwick Boseman will win Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal as Levee this year. He gives a soulful performance that will not be forgotten any time soon. The audience sees him as a carefree man, but underneath, there is so much more. Chadwick's portrayal can make you laugh, and then make you cry. I don't think I have seen such a strong performance from a supporting actor like this in a long time, and am happy to say his role was, and is, my favorite.
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom does not have many scene changes, some shared by scenes happening subsequently with other scenes, and the dialogue is broken into 20-minute segments. While this is typical for plays, it is not as typical for movies and can lead to some boredom if you are not following along. However, while at times I was bored, I found it fantastic. The conversations were kinetic, and flowed from one subject to the next seamlessly, even at times when the story was a bit slow. The entire time it was almost as like the characters were actually having a conversation with one another, and it wasn't scripted beforehand. The most powerful scene without a doubt comes from Chadwick Boseman's character Levee. I don't want to spoil the scene for you, but it was one of the most powerful monologues I've seen in a while. On top of that, the shots in this movie were very nice, and sometimes included a zoom-in on peoples' faces, something that felt very 1920s movie era and fit in beautifully with the film.
Overall, this was a great movie, right down to the nuts and bolts. Some scenes go slower than others, and sure, a small plot point or two may not be necessary, but it doesn't take away from the overall viewing experience. Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman give incredible performances, and the sets and costumes left me in awe. Keep your eye out for this movie at the Academy Awards this year. It's coming in hot. Rating: 9.5/10