'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom' review: Chadwick Boseman's swansong is a gut-wrenching tale of trauma and ambition

Written By: Sameeksha Dandriyal WION Web Team
New Delhi Published: Dec 18, 2020, 04:56 PM(IST)

Best Actor : Chadwick Boseman Photograph:( Twitter )

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Chadwick Boseman’s last appearance on-screen, 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom' is a testament of his performance as an actor and of Viola Davis' fiery presence.

Anger, naivety, passion, trauma mixed with blues and you get a perfectly balanced cocktail called 'Ma Rainey's Blck Bottom'. Chadwick Boseman’s last appearance on-screen, the film is a testament of his performance as an actor and of Viola Davis' fiery presence. The film gets you excited, makes you tap your shoes, smile at Lavee and the band's conversations and leaves you teary-eyed and frustrated by the end of it. Now if that’s not all the notes to touch while listening to a song-story, I don’t know what else is. ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ flows like one of Mother of Blues’ songs and this is exactly what it intended to do. 

Directed by George C. Wolfe and based on the play of the same name by August Wilson, the story takes place in a day’s event at a recording studio where Ma Rainey’s is recording her songs with the band. The one hour thirty minutes see the temperature rise within the studios as many shades of characters develop and change, as you learn more about them.

At the center is Levee, a passionate young member of trailblazing performer Ma Rainey’s band, who wants to pump up the world with music people can dance to. On the other hand is Ma Rainey, a woman who has created a niche in the world of blues and has learnt how to keep things moving in her favour, both come with their own struggles and trauma attached. How these two control the situations and how the situations control the two, leaving both empty-handed by the end of the film, is what makes the film. Poetry where the heroes know the path they are taking, yet are appalled by the circumstances that occur by the end of their action, is hauntingly beautiful. 

There’s always some beauty in films that rely heavily on storytelling and one on one dialogues, rather than just expressions. The film has a lot of heavy talking, but it never feels boring. The most tear-jerking moments in the film are said in the film, rather than shown, and both of them are explained through words of Ma Rainey and Lavee, expressed only through eyes and a lot of anguish. 

Also read: Race, music, strong women at the heart of movie 'Ma Rainey'

As for Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s is a perfect swansong. You see him as a young, passionate Lavee who loves to live in style, has dreams as big as his shoe’s budget, and a darkness that’s even bigger. A man who gains and loses it all within the span of the film.  There is a fight that breaks out between Cutler ( Colman Domingo) and him over god ignoring his black devotees and it breaks your heart, relating it to incidents of 2020. The relevance gets to you. The anger is real and the questions still worth pondering over. 

Viola Davis’ Ma is fierce, controlling and legit, however, she knows till where she can control the narrative. She fights fair, but she has given her all to reach where she is now. In the film, she very fondly talks about blues and how it helps her get out of bed every morning, she goes on to say, “I ain’t invent the blues, the blues always been there,” and yet owns her action of making blues popular by adding, “but if they want me to call the mother of blues, I ain’t complaining”

Also see: Chadwick Boseman to Sean Connery: Hollywood stars we’ve lost in 2020

There’s a lot of layers that the film offers. Living as a black person in the 1920s is just one of them. The deeper layers exist in the human portrayal of these people. The fear of failure, the will to be in control and the lack-lustrous ambition to just live another day, to be a leftover. 

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a poem in the rhythm of the blue. The chords sit well, yet make you uncomfortable, in a sad well-intentioned way. Don’t you skip on it, this track will get you hooked.  

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