8 Mile (2002)
(Release Date: September 8, 2002 [Toronto Film Festival Premier])
(November 6, 2002 [USA])
Adequate retelling of the against all odds Success story... DOG!
With the added ingredient of an annoying rapper.
In the city I grew up in, Shreveport, Louisiana there is a cruddy part of town called Cedar Grove which is separated from one of the most posh parts of town called Spring Lake by a stretch of Line Avenue less than 20 feet in width. While it never became an allegorical invisible glass ceiling, it was noticeable that these two parts of the town were puzzle pieced together as if from separate puzzle boxes. Apparently in Detroit, Michigan a similar dynamic is separated by a road known as 8 Mile. The less fortunate must penetrate this translucent boundary in order to be considered successful. Rapper Eminem apparently broke through this glass ceiling in Detroit, while rock/ rapper Kid Rock brought the trailer park with him. When Kid Rock makes a movie, we'll explore him, but for now, Eminem's semi-autobiographical rise of the blanc rapper has splashed on the screen like The Great White Dope.
Eminem plays an aspiring rapper named B-Rabbit (AKA Jimmy Smith Junior) who works in an auto plant (in Detroit?) and participates in street corner and on-stage rap battles on his way to fulfilling his dream to become... well, Eminem. Those that are supporting him include a low-level Rap promoter named Future (Mekhi Phifer) and goofy sidekick Cheddar Bob (Evan Jones)... those who are keeping him down include a group of rapper-hoods known as The Free World(?) and the very home he lives in where his mother (Kim Basinger) sleeps with his high school enemies.
The ultimate result is an effective and interesting film about the rise of a performer against all odds. It might be just spectacular if it wasn't something we'd seen before in a number of other attempts at the big screen. It may be somewhat above average for a retelling, but a retelling it is. All the ingredients of Rocky, Dirty Dancing, Saturday Night Fever, and The Karate Kid are well represented along with just enough of the sort of things that Eminem raps about to make the audience weep out "Oh, it's so realistic!" In fact, it's as much of a calculated attempt to give Eminem street cred as Cool as Ice was for Vanilla Ice. Luckily this is a much, much better film that Cool as Ice!
Eminem does a fine job of portraying B-Rabbit at his highest and his lowest, from the beginning where he chokes on stage and is booed off to the end where he exudes the confidence of Peggy Hill on Steroids. Not to detract from an overall good performance, but it's not much of a stretch to believe him as a Detroit rapper reaching for the big time... because that's what he did. If they make a movie starring me as a disenchanted and sarcastic online film critic are you going to start screaming Oscar-bait?
Might I say, no you wouldn't?
Might I add, rightly so! If you can win an award for playing yourself, why can't Michael Moore get an award for portraying Michael Moore in Bowling for Columbine?
Mekhi Phifer offers the same above average smirky pride here as he does in NBC's ER. He's probably going places, and he's pretty good, but he still seems like he's trying hard not to outshine or upstage Eminem on the screen like Brittany Murphy does. Murphy is excellent as always, and is really beautiful here in a sleazy and smeared kind of way. She either got paid an incredible sum to act attracted to Eminem or she's just a great actress. Speaking of, Bassinger is also pretty fine here as Smith's mom. Here she let's her full on Texas Accent show and she sounds a lot more like Murphy's King of the Hill character Luanne than like Vicky Vale. She's made to look tired and trashy here, but she's still lovely.
The film's main crime is not to make a Rapper into a movie star... he's not so bad... but it's to give us the same movie we've seen sixty times, and flip us off for paying for it again. There's the same feeling from all the supporting cast that this kid has got it, if you could only just see it, and they put a series of obnoxious obstacles in his way to make us wait almost two hours to believe them. It all feels like it's a calculation to make reviewers say that it's a "triumph of the human spirit" like My Left Foot or something. Well it's no more My Left Foot than it is my left nut, okay?
For one thing, there seems to be a thinly veiled distancing from Eminem's public homophobia shown by his defending of an openly gay coworker... but it's all belied by the slurs he makes in the guy's defense. Also, women in this film aren't treated with the flattery that James Carville might offer Newt Gingritch! Any woman seen in a speaking role in this film eventually pans out to be a character who is a money grubbing slut ready to offer themselves sexually to anyone with the bigger and better upwardly mobile intentions. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy that they're going to end up being rapped about as "bitches" and "hos!" Is it the intention of director Curtis Hanson and writer Scott Silver to explain why rappers look down on women by portraying them in a negative light? Get a job, it's still misogyny and caricaturing it in such an obvious way doesn't make this any less a fact. Lastly, am I the only one willing to admit that Eminem's and thus B-Rabbit's rapping voice is a little irritating? Don't get me wrong, he has a way with words and I can listen to him and enjoy him, but doesn't he sound just a little too much like a profane Smurf that ends every sentence with the word "Dog?"
Of course everyone else calls everyone else "dog" too until I was at the point where I wasnĺt sure whose name was what. When Future actually refers to a crowd as "you cats" I was afraid that the "cats" and the "dogs" would end up chasing each other barking and meowing and we'd be in the midst of a real higgldy piggldy mess.
While I won't reveal the ending, anyone paying attention to the first five minutes or just thirty seconds of the preview can figure it all out. It's the journey that is overall pretty interesting and fun to watch. True, it has been done and it is somewhat predictable, but it never wears out its welcome. It's not a great movie any more than Eminem is a great actor, but it also isn't a bad movie at all. I might not go see Eminem in a production of Macbeth, but I might watch him in 8 Mile again.
In the film it's stated openly that a white man can always make it in a black man's medium. Well, I could give a manure brick whether a person is white, black or polka dotted, and so taken for all with all this movie gets Three Stars out of five. Does Eminem have staying power? Probably so... more than Vanilla Ice... but then the continuing popularity of such insulting acts as Justin Timberlake far beyond that of the New Kids on the Block pretty much decries the need for good taste for staying power. As a movie actor though, hey, he's watchable though, and he's made a passable, if predictable little film. Now why didn't Adam Ant ever get a starring role?
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8 Mile Reviewed by J.C. Mašek III, dog, who is responsible for his own views, and for the fact that there's vomit on his sweater already, Mom's Spaghetti!
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