It's now official: everyone wants to be a movie star. Sure, us "common" folk have always had stardust in our eyes, but it seems no one is immune to the allure of Tinsel Town. Professional athletes, television actors, pop stars, everyone seems to be drawn to the silver screen like moths to flame. There is a long, sad list of celebrities whose meager thespian talents should never have been immortalized on celluloid. Mariah Carey, Brittney Spears, Jon Bon Jovi, these are just a few recent examples. While there is a much shorter list of famous folk who successfully made the transition (Madonna, Elvis, and Cher immediately spring to mind), it would appear that the least likely candidate for film stardom would be rap star Eminem. Not the king of cool! Not Mr. non-conformist, anti-establishment himself! Is this not exactly the sort of vanity move for which he has spent much of his career deriding other pop stars? Be that as it may, this immensely successful, phenomenally talented performer has once again succeeded by throwing caution to the wind and confronting the challenge head on. While his legions of politically correct detractors may be hoping to see him fail on a Mariah Carey level, steps where taken with this movie to ensure that not only was failure not an option, it was not a possibility either.
refers to an actual boundary in Detroit that effectively separates the middle-class from their poorer, inner-city brethen. The movie, loosely based on its star's own experiences, details the plight of young white rapper Rabbit as he attempts to cope with an indifferent mother, a boring repetitive job, and a girlfriend who is too self-serving to offer the kind of emotional shelter he desperately needs. One night, while at an MC contest, he chokes due to his feelings of inferiority at being the token white kid in a musical field dominated by blacks. In his screen debut, Eminem has wisely chosen a role that should be relateable to his legions of fans. As Rabbit, Eminem displays considerable courage by portraying a kid who is initially crippled by his insecurities. The role effectively deconstructs his public persona, as we get a rare glimpse into the man behind the facade. Rabbit does not come across as a genius, nor does Eminem play him as a budding, smart-ass superstar just waiting for his big break. No, this kid raps out of desperation, as he honestly believes his talent is the only ticket out of the hell that is his life. Eminem's acting elevates a role that could have easily descended into self-parody in lesser hands. The movie offers a clue as to the origins of his warped sense of humour and angry young man status. In such a hopeless environment, it would seem that humour is the only way to keep from going insane, while only one who has lived on the periphery can critique society with as much bile and credibility as he does. Surprisingly, his acting suggests a depth and vulnerability that is refreshing, and the film offers more of an insight into his true self than perhaps was intended. It is a risky move, letting down his defenses to this extent, but Eminem realises that he is the small fish here so he effectively surrounds himself with the best the industry has to offer.
There are many excellent supporting performances in 8 Mile
, particularly Kim Basinger as Rabbit's mother Stephanie. Basinger plays a women whose priorities are not what anyone would consider maternal. Although her son can not get along with her boyfriend, Stephanie stands by her man regardless of the tension the union causes. Hey, you can always have another kid, but a good man is hard to find...This is a textured, nuanced performance that suggests her turn in LA Confidential
was no fluke. As Rabbit's girlfriend Alex, Brittany Murphy personifies white trash ambition and duplicity, which of course makes her even more attractive to our hero. As his best friend Future, Mekhi Phifer does much to prevent the narrative from becoming too cliched or simplistic. He shows that for every apparently souless inner-city punk, there is another who seems more or less human. However, the real star of 8 Mile
is the city of Detroit itself. Director Hanson shows us such a striking example of urban decay and filth that the air of desperation created feels entirely real. It is never less than totally believable that Rabbit, or anyone else for that matter, would want to escape this place. The milieu created in 8 Mile
lends it an authenticity that further endears the main character to his audience.
I personally found 8 Mile
to be a film much easier to appreciate than enjoy. Eminem is such a fascinating, charismatic, compelling public figure that I, like many of his fans, was drawn to this film in the hopes of discerning some clue as to his inner workings. Coming out of it, I felt closer to him than his recordings usually allow. Although the truth is probably somewhere in the middle, 8 Mile
is triumphant for providing an opportunity to see a different side of such a controversial figure. It is easy to suspend disbelief in this movie and feel that you have actually witnessed a major star's formative years. The film concentrates more on Marshall Mathers, the nerdy rap wannabe, than Slim Shady the trouble making prankster or Eminem the social pariah and media whore. Having said that, the film is pretty much the standard likable-hero-must-overcome-various-obstacles-to-succeed Rocky
type of narrative that we have seen many times before. The movie really only comes alive during the immensely entertaining freestyle scenes, which are guaranteed to get both your adrenaline and fists pumping. 8 Mile
plays more like a validation than a movie-going experience. Yes, Eminem can be offensive and disgusting, but look how hard he had to work to get where he is! As a fan, I enjoyed seeing a more human Eminem. However, the non-converted may wish to look elsewhere if seeking a more pure form of entertainment.
With 8 Mile
, Eminem avoids the embarrassment of making an unwelcome and unwarranted venture into feature film. By portraying an environment that creates real pathos for the central character and clearly shows the source of his motivation, director Curtis Hanson effectively justifies the existence of his film. However, the movie begs the question: where does Eminem go from here? Is this the beginning of a long and distinguished career in film? It would seem that so far, as an actor, Eminem is a one trick pony. Should this remain his only movie, 8 Mile
will be remembered as a successful transition from pop star to film actor. Should he decide to go further, he will need to surround himself with the same winning combination of stylish directing, poignant scripting and competent supporting work if he wants to succeed twice.