Slim's shady acting
What do you get when you mix pop culture's most controversial and intriguing celebrity with one of Hollywood's most talented directors? 8 Mile, a film so highly hyped and anticipated that it easily captured the second highest grossing opening weekend ever for an R-rated film.
Was it particularly artsy, moving, or awe-inspiring? No. But it did promise to reveal hip-hop star Eminem in all his glory, and that alone was enough to bring in the masses. It certainly didn't hurt that he had Curtis Hanson, the director of L. A. Confidential, and Oscar-winning actress Kim Basinger behind him, giving the whole project more cinematic legitimacy, but he didn't need it. All Eminem had to do was reveal himself on-screen. Or at least pretend to.
8 Mile is essentially a biopic, but then again, not really. Eminem plays Jimmy Smith, a talented young white man living in Detroit's ghettos pursuing his dream of becoming a professional rapper. After breaking up with his girlfriend Janeane (Taryn Manning, who was also in Britney Spears' Crossroads hmm ) he goes to live in his mother's (Kim Basinger) mobile home with his little sister (eerily reminiscent of his real-life daughter Hailie) and his mother's violent boyfriend. His friend Wink and semi-love-interest Alex (Brittany Murphy) claim to have the connections to help him make it, but Jimmy soon learns that if he wants to succeed, he's got to prove himself on his own.
This film gives theater employees a good reason to be checking IDs at the door. Unlike Britney Spears in her little "movie," Eminem is not looking to be America's hero-at least not in the moral sense; he just shows it how it is. The film's got every nasty thing he's known growing up in the Detroit slums with no apologies: glorified drug use, senseless violence, vandalism, prostitution. And in the true spirit of authenticity he uses the word "faggot" as an insult. But the parallels with Eminem's real life, as we common consumers know it, stop there. Certain little details are conveniently left out. He is never shown smoking (though his friends are) or promoting purple pills. He doesn't wish his mother would burn in hell. And, as far as we know, he doesn't want to kill either of his girlfriends. When he acts violently, it's always in self-defense or to protect someone else's honor. In the end, it seems, Jimmy Smith is not an asshole, but just a guy who does what he has to do. Whether that's true of the real Slim Shady is another question altogether.
As this is a Curtis Hanson film, I found myself doing what I always do when I see works by the masters: search for the director's elements of style-his fingerprints. Alas, I was disappointed. This was a star film start to finish; Hanson barely touched it. Clearly, he was too busy teaching Eminem how to act. And for the most part, he succeeded-Eminem's portrayal of, well, himself, wasn't that far off. I guess.
Although only so much can be said for Eminem's acting. He's good at getting mad and looking mad, that's for sure. But his less emotional scenes seemed very unnatural. Next to someone as talented as Kim Basinger, his very basic acting style seemed kind of silly.
Most of the characters didn't really have lives of their own, but were developed only as far as they served Jimmy Smith's star development. Brittany Murphy's Alex was especially puzzling. She was there only to look sexy, walk sexy, talk sexy, and then, of course, have sex with Jimmy in the film's installment of the must-have, unnecessary sex scene. But that's about as far as she's thought. Then there's Mekhi Phifer, who plays Jimmy's best friend Future. He's likeable and interesting, but also the run-of-the-mill sidekick. We know very little about him or Jimmy's other friends, because, well, they don't really matter.
Only the star matters in the star film. In Hollywood rags to riches style, he rises out of nothing with a dream and determination. His stardom isn't secured until the very end-when he emerges victorious in some kind of heroic, euphoric confrontation full of tension, excitement, and suspense-even though we all know who's going to win. And since we're talking about a genius rapper here, that confrontation was the freestyle rap battle. And boy oh boy was it cool. These ten minutes made me not only want to really like rap, but also be able to rap myself (right ). The contestants flung perfectly-synched insults at each other to the cheers and jeers of the crowd, advancing round by round until the final match-up, when Jimmy finally got to prove himself.
All in all, the film did its job, and it did it well. It made a huge star even bigger, raised more questions than it supplied answers, and made a heck of a lot of dough on the way. Surely Hollywood is crying tears of joy while plotting a sequel. Bow down, fellow filmgoers, to the awesome power of the cultural icon.