Trisha’s Take: Who Do You Love review

rsz_who_do_you_love__filmposterWho Do You Love

Directed by Jerry Zaks
Starring Alessandro Nivola, Jon Abrahams, Chi McBride

Growing up in suburban southern California, I can’t say that I had the most grounded musical education. My dad loved the Beatles, but my untutored ear preferred the red greatest hits album to the blue one, and I didn’t start listening to non-top 40 stuff until it was considered cool and “edgy” to listen to Dr. Drew and the Poorman late at night on KROQ.

Much later, I was fortunate enough to meet three different guys who while romancing me, showed me that here was more to music than what gets played on the radio; now, I’m quite proud to say that I carry a pretty eclectic mix of songs on my iPod.

This is my way of saying that while I know that rock and roll was born from the blues, I don’t really know it the same way a true music aficionado does—which is why I’m glad to have seen a little part of how the rock and roll craze all started.

Who Do You Love, the story about the earliest days of seminal recording label Chess Records, debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2008 but hasn’t been put into wider release until now. A large reason behind that could be that just months after the festival ended, Cadillac Records was put into wide release, a movie which also focuses on much of the same subject matter, but features a more mainstream cast. I’m not going to compare the two movies—although I really should—because I think that this one deserves to be judged on its own merits.

The movie begins at a Bo Diddley concert in Brooklyn in the 1950s, but the actual story begins in Chicago during the Great Depression where two Jewish brothers named Leonard and Phil Chess are captivated by a man pan-handling and playing the blues. It’s obvious that Leonard is more captivated by the music than his brother is, and it’s an obsession with the “Negro music” which leads them to sell the salvage yard they inherited from their father in order to open up a nightclub on the South Side.

Leonard (played by Alessandro Nivola) is presented as the more driven of the two, and much is made of his “ear” for talent. As such, he becomes our main character and Jon Abrahams as Phil gets to be the straight man. Rounding out the trio is Chi McBride as Willie Dixon, the brothers’ self-proclaimed tour guide into all things “Negro.”

Eventually, the brothers start their record label and the movie introduces its audience to legendary blues musician Muddy Waters (David Oyelowo) and someone the movie is calling Ivy Mills, but everyone knows is supposed to be Etta James (Megalyn Echikunwoke). It’s during the section that focuses on the Mills character where the movie turns from being a conventional musical biopic and strays into Lifetime TV movie territory by depicting an explicit romance between Mills and Leonard at the expense of his marriage to his long-suffering wife Revetta.

The most interesting thing about Who Do You Love is the movie’s portrayal of Leonard. All throughout the film, he is presented as being a smart, streetwise fellow, whose unusual negotiation tactics unfortunately do nothing to blow apart the stereotype that Jewish people are cheap and conniving. As the real Leonard Chess died from a heart attack in 1969, he’s allowed to have the flaws that seem to be missing from Phil’s character and were blown completely out of proportion in the James analogue’s or maybe even Muddy Waters’.

I can’t think of an actor I hated, not even Marika Dominczyk’s Revetta because I could empathize with her plight. She originally loved and married a man with a stable, quiet job and found herself married to one of the biggest names in the music industry. That’s enough to put strain on any marriage; add in the fact that the movie takes place during a time where women weren’t supposed to have any ambitions other than having a nice, stable home life, and there’s a recipe for disaster.

It’s been almost 12 hours since I’ve seen this movie, and yet as much as I liked it and as much as I laughed and bopped my head to the lushly-filmed musical interludes, for some reason I can’t scrape up a completely glowing recommendation. I suspect the largest reason why is because you can never really believe that the story is entirely true due to the creation of the Mills character.

If you really wanted to learn more about the blues, the birth of rock and roll, the music industry, and/or race relations during the 1950s, there are other better documentaries that you could watch. If you really wanted to see a compelling drama about the redemption of a workaholic, again, there are better movies you could watch. In other words, if you’re doing anything on April 16 when this movie goes into limited release, I don’t think you need to change your plans.

Who Do You Love is currently not rated, but if it were, it would get a soft R due to numerous uses of the word “motherfucker” and scenes of female nudity. No, the two things are not connected, you pervs.

Posted on March 26, 2010 at 05:57 by Trisha Lynn · Permalink
In: Reviews

2 Responses

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  1. Written by joanna
    on 2010-03-27 at 18:23

    I've been really meaning to check this movie out, so I did read a number of reviews about it, some more favourale than others. But I have to say that this is the one, you got me at “I can’t think of an actor I hated, not even Marika Dominczyk’s Revetta because I could empathize with her plight.”. Thanks for the article!

  2. Written by TrishaLynn77
    on 2010-03-29 at 02:28

    I'm glad to be of service!

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