Who Do You Love, Film Review - by J. Blake

Posted on 4/20/2010 by J. Blake

(New York, NY)

In 2008 the story of Leonard Chess and the rise of his wildly successful ‘race’ record company that created the blues’ greatest legends and gave birth to rock ‘n’ roll, made its way to the big screen for the first time. Yes I am talking about CADILLAC RECORDS, but I am also talking about a completely different film titled WHO DO YOU LOVE.

As CADILLAC RECORDS found wide theatrical release with its star-studded cast and chart-topping soundtrack, the much “smaller” WHO DO YOU LOVE was reserved to the festival circuit and is just now (two years later) finding distribution; currently playing theatrically in limited release.

Unfortunately for WHO DO YOU LOVE, it is virtually impossible not to compare it to its bigger budgeted cinematic doppelganger. The differences between the two films are too many to count; each (unsurprisingly) focusing their attentions on different characters, telling Chess’ story from (more than slightly) different angles. One of the more notable differences is WHO DO YOU LOVE’s focus on Leonard Chess’ relationship with his brother/business partner Phil, a subject not explored at all in CADILLAC RECORDS. The film also inexplicably replaces Etta James with a fictionalized representation of her named Ivy Mills.

Though its theatrical predecessor is far from perfect, WHO DO YOU LOVE still manages to fall short in more ways than just monetarily. Because it was made with the consent of the Chess family, WHO DO YOU LOVE takes a lighter, more nostalgic, and at times more trivial, approach to the subject matter. Topics like disc jockey payoffs and racial tensions are played for laughs, as is the character of Little Walter, who is represented here as a dimwitted eccentric; a harsh contrast to the real life innovative blues genius, whose success and career were tragically cut short by his irascibility and a life filled with substance abuse and needless physical conflicts.

The film’s limited budget and the fact that director Jerry Zaks’ Broadway and television experience does not completely translate to big screen, sadly makes WHO DO YOU LOVE feel more like a made-for-cable TV movie than a theatrical film. Performance-wise, the main players do an adequate job, but are unfortunately burdened with a less than perfect script. Too much of the dialogue feels clunky and unneeded. Alessandro Nivola’s performance as Leonard Chess, though generally strong, at times feels affected and unnatural as he is seemingly forced to work the word “motherfucker” into what feels like every other scene; as a bit of a poorly conceived recurring joke. In fact, most of the humor falls flat and from a narrative standpoint, many of the film’s most important plot points seem overly conventional and a little too convenient.

Dramatically and cinematically, WHO DO YOU LOVE comes up a little short; especially when compared to CADILLAC RECORDS. Calling it “Cadillac Records-light” is probably a fair description, but that is not to say that it is completely without worth. The soundtrack is of course strong, the subject matter is interesting and despite its flaws, it can easily hold a viewer’s (especially a blues fan’s) attention for the duration of its 92 minute running time. It may not be worth seeing for $12.50 at the theater, but it is definitely worth a rental.

*If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy: Johnny Childs' Blues Before Sunrise

Thanks and keep reading American Blues News!!!

Copyright © 2010 - J. Blake. All Rights Reserved

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