(AllHipHop News) Academy Award nominee Queen Latifah’s latest acting role features the Hip Hop representative portraying legendary singer Bessie Smith. The biopic about the late performer known as “The Empress of the Blues” also stars Academy Award winner Mo’Nique as Smith’s mentor Ma Rainey.
While Bessie is set to air on HBO this weekend, critics have already begun publishing their reviews of the film, and Latifah and Monique’s depictions are garnering acclaim across the board. Read what some reviewers are saying about the two actresses’ respective performances below.
Mo’Nique plays the role with verve, and the early scenes she shares with Queen Latifah leave you wanting more, just as audiences must have felt when Rainey and Smith shared a stage back in the 1920s. Their strong performances aren’t matched by the script.
Oscar winner Mo’Nique (“Precious”) electrifies the early part of the film as Rainey…
Latifah, who does her own vocals, gives with her whole body, leaning in to the physicality of a woman unafraid to throw a punch or knock back a few too many, and then sing the blues like someone who does both. There are moments when she summons shivers.
The first test any such biopic must pass is whether you’re convinced the person on screen could be a star, and it’s one Latifah passes so well and so quickly, you sometimes wonder what’s taking Bessie so long. She’s radiant, from the first moment she appears — bathed in an eerie blue glow — to her very last scene, drenched in sunshine and false hope…
Bessie has raw talent, but what she needs is a mentor and model, and she finds one in the great Ma Rainey (a suitably great Mo’Nique).
The performances are splendid throughout, starting with Latifah, whose gutsy embrace of the role requires laying herself bare in every way imaginable. In addition to standout turns by Williams and Mo’Nique, the supporting roster includes Khandi Alexander as Bessie’s estranged sister and Tory Kittles as her doting brother.
There is in fact little that can pass as subtlety in this film, borne up by its brashness, not to mention a superb Queen Latifah, who brings both the singer and her songs to life with spectacular assurance.
Latifah’s syncopated vocals have burnished power and feeling, and despite song titles such as “Down Hearted Blues,” “Young Woman’s Blues,” “Preachin’ the Blues,” “Work House Blues” and “Weepin’ Woman Blues,” the infectious numbers are most notable for capturing the joyous resilience and defiant pride of music born out of difficult lives…
In addition to Smith, the film also salutes another salty blues pioneer, Ma Rainey, appealingly played by Mo’Nique with an insouciant swagger and flinty demeanor that softens into warmth when early professional rivalry gives way in later years to friendship and support.
When Mo’Nique is onscreen, her intense, razor-like charisma cuts through the clutter of biographical details to get at the beating heart of the matter.
Owens [Latifah] conveys Smith’s talent, strength and vulnerability in a tour de force performance that solidifies her place among the industry’s best actresses. Owens’ depth as an actress is on full display as she moves thoughtfully and intentionally through the story of Smith’s turbulent life, which was marked by scandal, despair, triumph and courage…
Mo’Nique’s bold depiction of the blues legend is mesmerizing. The proverbial baton that was passed from Rainey to Smith is reflected in the passing of the baton from an Oscar-winning actress (Mo’Nique) to Owens, who already has an Academy Award nomination under her belt—for 2002’sChicago—and who certainly has an Oscar win in her future.
Bessie was directed by Dee Rees. Besides Latifah and Mo’Nique, the cast also includes Michael Kenneth Williams, Khandi Alexander, Mike Epps, and Tika Sumpter. The movie premieres on HBO on Saturday, May 16.
Watch the trailer for Bessie below.