6.6/10
3,225
16 user 16 critic

Bessie (2015)

TV-MA | | Biography, Drama, Music | TV Movie 16 May 2015
Trailer
1:31 | Trailer

Watch Now

From $9.99 (HD) on Amazon Video

The story of legendary blues performer Bessie Smith, who rose to fame during the 1920s and '30s.

Director:

Writers:

(screenplay), (screenplay) | 3 more credits »
Reviews
Popularity
3,887 ( 342)
Nominated for 1 Golden Globe. Another 22 wins & 46 nominations. See more awards »

Videos

Photos

Edit

Cast

Credited cast:
...
Jack Gee
...
...
Carl Van Vechten
...
John Hammond
...
Viola
...
Lucille
...
Richard
...
...
William 'Pa' Rainey
...
Clarence
...
(voice)
...
Doreen Dupree
...
Langston Hughes
...
Swarm Boy #2
...
Fania Van Vechten
Edit

Storyline

The story of legendary blues performer Bessie Smith, who rose to fame during the 1920s and '30s.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

The Queen brings Bessie back to life.

Genres:

Biography | Drama | Music

Certificate:

TV-MA | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

 »
Edit

Details

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

16 May 2015 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

В блюзе только Бесси  »

Filming Locations:


Company Credits

Show more on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Color:

Aspect Ratio:

1.78 : 1
See  »
Edit

Did You Know?

Trivia

Mo'Nique was offered the role of Viola, but she refused because she had played that type of character before. Reading the script, she liked Ma Rainey and asked HBO if it was possible to play that character. See more »

Quotes

Bessie Smith: I ain't playing second to nobody!
See more »


Soundtracks

Long Old Road
Written by Bessie Smith
Performed by Queen Latifah
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

It's Tough Out There for a Biopic Maker
17 May 2015 | by See all my reviews

A movie about some aspect of Bessie Smith's life is decades overdue, considering the broad cultural shadow she casts. A few episodes of her tumultuous life explored in depth would resonate, but like too many biopics, this one suffers from the creators' attempt to tell the whole story, or most it, and the results are mechanical, predictable and force-fitted into various agendas. Most biopic makers stumble upon these rocks. Their task is difficult.

From the start of "Bessie" we are told five things over and over: Bessie was haunted throughout her life by memories of the mother she lost as a child. Bessie had lesbian dalliances. Bessie loved to drink straight gin, preferably right out of the bootlegger's glass jar. Bessie had a violent temper. Bessie was a fiercely independent, take-charge kind of gal. But the main thing about Bessie that is presented only sporadically and by rote is her distinctive singing and how it came to be that way. Queen Latifah, who would seem to be a fine choice for this role, does suggest Smith in girth and even in facial features, but despite a strong voice which she tries to adapt to the Smith groove, she never makes us feel the rafters rising as the Smith legend tells us. The only time she approaches the true Smith sound is near the end when hard living had begun to ravage her vocal chords. And in the early scenes Latifah, given her age and physicality, cannot possibly persuade us that she is a young, unformed artist-to-be.

The attempt to demonstrate how she gradually upstaged her mentor, Ma Rainey (played to the hilt by Mo'Nique), is episodic and sketchy, not organic or dramatic; the same goes for the re-enactments of Smith's altercations with members of the high-toned Manhattan art scene in the 1920s and early 1930s. Some good substance is made of her volatile love affairs with men (Michael Kenneth Williams and Mike Epps). But her mid-career slump is presented as with no explanation or cause, other than perhaps the Great Depression. SPOILER ALERT: Her tragic death (a potential movie in itself) is entirely absent, as "Bessie" ends in mid-air, or mid- road, as we are left with her musings about where she will go next after a picnic with her former bootlegger.

So, a point has been scored for Bessie Smith. It opens a conversation. But more is needed.


19 of 25 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?
Review this title | See all 16 user reviews »

Contribute to This Page

Paul Scheer on Why There Are No Bad Movies

Paul Scheer discusses The Disaster Artist and his love of awesomely bad movies. Plus, we dive into the origins of midnight movies and explore how The Room became a cult classic.

Watch now