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Parents' Guide to

The United States vs. Billie Holiday

By Monique Jones, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 16+

Disappointing biopic has drug use, violence, sex.

Movie R 2021 130 minutes
The United States vs. Billie Holiday Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Community Reviews

age 17+

Based on 1 parent review

age 17+

I think it’s insight into the life of one of our most talented black artist who embodied power, racism and a fight against a crooked government. Directed with grace, performed with determination and produced fearlessly.

Go see it. Then talk about the flaws of this country with an open mind and truth. If you think it’s too much of anything then you don’t want to see honest performances.

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (1 ):
Kids say (2 ):

This disappointing biopic is a disservice to Day's performance, which is Oscar-worthy. She single-handedly saves the film from being a complete mess through her dedication to embodying Holiday's trauma, sadness, and immense talent. Hearing the result of Day's work to train her voice to sound exactly like Holiday's is awe-inspiring. But because the film is so poorly made, her excellent portrayal risks being overlooked.

One explanation for the film's disjointed feel is Suzan-Lori Parks' script: Her plays are known for their dream-like, vignette-style approach to storytelling, which doesn't translate well here. And director Lee Daniels isn't known for his subtlety or for making gradual leaps in logic in his projects. Together, these two elements create a cacophony of stylistic choices, camera angles, and image treatments. A scene might switch from black-and-white to cinema verité-style camerawork and back to the look of a traditional theatrical film. Scenes are cut off before viewers can establish information -- including who a character is, how they relate to Holiday, and their motivations. Because characters flit in and out of untethered scenes and because of the film's focus on the salacious over the core of the story -- how the U.S. government waged war on an individual woman for daring to stand up for her people -- The United States vs. Billie Holiday ends up serving no one.

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