I watched Nina. Now I can’t stop thinking about Vincent Chase from Entourage. Let me explain…
“Manager Clifton Henderson (David Oyelowo) helps singer and pianist Nina Simone (Zoe Saldana) rediscover her love for music.”
For those of you unaware, HBO ran this show called Entourage. The show revolves around Vinny Chase and his 3 friends moving to Hollywood as they chase their dreams and aspirations. Somewhere along the way, Vinny becomes 1 of the biggest stars in the world. Eventually, he has a passion project called Medellin, a biopic about Pablo Escobar. The trailer was leaked and drew lots of interest. People were bidding left and right for the movie. They decided to release the film at a film festival in hopes of driving up the price. The film was horrible. Their lone offer came at the price of a whopping $1. SOLD. Made every “worst of the year” list and probably landed Vinny a Razzie or 2 (no official mention on the show).
Enter Zoe Saldana in the role of Vinny Chase. It’s not her “passion project” but she gets to step into the role of the iconic Nina Simone. Zoe is a good actress. I say this respectfully when she did not do a good job in the role. Some combat sports do as well financially as the main event is set up. With Zoe as Nina, she did poorly so naturally the movie did poorly. As of this writing, the movie is set at 3% rotten on Rotten Tomatoes. Totally can see why.
- Zoe is singing all the songs. In Straight Outta Compton, the actor playing Eazy-E doesn’t rap the songs; they actually play the original songs and Eazy’s voice. in Ray, Jamie Foxx doesn’t sing the Ray Charles’ song, despite his fantastic imitation collaborating with Kanye West. Because the family/estate did not give their blessing to the movie, I guess they decided to let Zoe sing all of the songs (credits listed as sung “by Zoe Saldana”). I’m not gonna say her voice is terrible. But Nina’s voice is super powerful.. and that’s not Zoe. It’s a sentiment people tend to have when they hear ___ is doing a tribute to ____. Select songs require certain artists to do those particular songs. My 1 major bias comment: Sinnerman is my favorite song and Zoe sang it like a pop ballad heard on the radio.
- The men outshine the women. Just a fact. David Oyelowo is an amazing actor, and if you’ve seen Selma you understand. He’s the supporting actor and just proves that he’s a better trained one. There’s nothing wrong with that unless the lead is that poor of one. Zoe has decent skills to be a lead but Oyelowo’s skill in playing Clifton outshines Zoe’s playing Nina. The 2 take up about 90% of the movie, as such. But then this movie gave us a sneak peek at the Richard Pryor biopic starrng Mike Epps. A role that I originally questioned (Marlon Wayans’ leaked audition strengthened that belief). Turns out we get a scene involving Pryor and Simone. The 3 minutes of screen time gives you an idea of how well Mike can act because he has Pryor down solid. The voice and mannerisms and amazing. “Day-Day” looks promising but doesn’t overshadow Zoe’s actual acting.
- Too much taboo. The “blackface” is distracting. It’s the elephant in the room and the acting does nothing to take away from it. I learned that the original choice for this film was Mary J. Blige. Acting or not, I can’t imagine who would’ve been a better choice, especially if they’re going to let the actress sing the actual songs. Not to mention the “troubled past” (the all-encompassing buzz term to describe someone with substance/criminal/domestic problems previously) is something people would sympathize to. Remember when people found out Robert Downey, Jr. was Iron Man? The sentiment that he already was Tony Stark was ok with fans. Not to mention Zoe tries to distinguish her voice to sound like Nina. Instead she sounds like Uhura playing a legendary singer & activist.
This is a failed project. I wouldn’t call it 90 minutes of torture, but throughout there is no significant scene aside from 1, and that’s predominantly because Mike Epps did Richard Pryor so well. Instead, “Feeling Good,” “I Put a Spell On You” and the rest of the catalogue uses in the movie sounds reminiscent of your talented friend at karaoke. Just because they can sing better than you doesn’t mean that they are talented enough to entertain a broad audience. Instead, she carries a tune without the resonant contralto reminiscent of the originals. Luckily, Zoe has Star Trek and Guardians of the Galaxy 2 to fall back on. She’ll have all that money to comfort her from soon to be Razzie nomination.
On a scale of Soul Plane to Think Like a Man, I give Nina a 2 out of 10. Watch it, suffer through it, and wait patiently for the Richard Pryor movie (with Oprah in it, no less!)