Review: "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom"


Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is a tough film made more emotionally intense by the actors' soulful performances and the hard truths at the core of the story.


Even if you didn't know the script was based on an August Wilson play, you could guess at the film's theatrical roots in its character focus, dialogue-heavy scenes, and stagy settings (the few outdoor scenes, particularly Chicago's city streets, seem to look purposefully like sets).


The closed spaces, so muggy-hot that the characters are sweating, feel symbolically restrictive, a manifestation of the oppression the Black characters have experienced all their lives. Their rage and weariness materialize especially in Ma Rainey and Levee. In one scene, Levee breaks down a door only to find himself at the bottom of an enclosed brick patio, with no way out.

Davis brings a simmering resentment to her Ma Rainey. One smoldering look through her smeared, maudlin make-up sends the men around her scampering. It comes as a bit of a shock to see photos over the end credits of a smiling, clean-faced real-life Ma Rainey.


Meanwhile, Boseman's final film before his untimely death from cancer shows the full range of his acting prowess. His Levee is at turns charming, sorrowful, boastful, angry, and violent. The solid character actors playing the musicians around him all have their own starring moments, but they seem mostly there to react to Boseman.


Levee is a talented, flawed, and traumatized young man who deeply deserves a better past and future than the ones he's got, and Boseman's gifted performance, exuding a mix of youthful energy, vulnerability and fury, brings this to tragic life.

Read the full review in Common Sense Media.

 

A note about privacy: This web is hosted on the Wix.com platform. Wix.com provides us with the online platform that allows us to share our content you. We do not share personal information with third-parties nor do we store information we collect about your visit to this blog for use other than to analyze content performance through the use of cookies, which you can turn off at any time by modifying your Internet browser's settings. We are not responsible for the republishing of the content found on this blog on other web sites or media without our permission. All art and posters from films used on this site are sourced from distributors where possible, and always represent official art released for press coverage of films. Please contact me directly with questions. This privacy policy is subject to change without notice.