Posted on 11/27/02
8 Mile Road
If there is one musical artist who has inspired more than their fair share of conversation, controversy, and downright vitriolic dispute than any other in recent years, it has got to be one Marshall Mathers, aka Slim Shady, aka Eminem.
Few modern music aficianados, or indeed casual modern radio listeners, will have missed the energetic appearence of Slim on the modern rap scene in 1999 with the Marshal Mathers LP. Since then we've seen the Slim Shady LP, The Eminem Show, and a handful of hit singles -- and now, it's time for a movie.
I first saw a preview for this film, 8 Mile, about six months ago -- before I had heard much of Em's music. I really only remember having two thoughts: 1) that was some cool trailer music, and 2) the movie would probably be another self-aggrandizing primadonna promotional vehicle. After seeing this trailer I lost track of the film's development until the past few months, when I was reminded of it shortly before it was released. Last week, I saw it, and I'm happy to report that my impressions of the trailer were only 50% right. The trailer music is cool.
Anyone who's listened to much of Eminem's stuff is accustomed, or at least acquainted, with his uniquely unapologetic style. 8 Mile, a loosely-based autobiographical account of an aspiring young rapper, B. Rabbit, follows this formula closely. It is a tense, honest, and at times emotional piece of cinema that feels more real than anything I've seen come out of Hollywood in recent years.
Although I did enjoy listening to a few of Eminem's songs before seeing this movie, my appreciation of his sonic style increased quite a bit after seeing the film -- and consequently I've collected quite a bit more of his music since. The "cool" music I heard in the trailer is also present in the film's soundtrack (of which a few songs were necessarily contributed by Eminem himself) which I've surprised myself by snapping up as well.
Now, it may seem that I've just wasted five minutes of your time talking about music instead of a movie, but until you see the film you may not realize that this is the type of movie for which it's very hard to restrict a review of the movie to just the movie itself, as the music plays such an integral part. Having said that, let me make a conscious effort to move on and talk more about the film...
I've heard this movie described as "a classic boxing movie, with mics instead of boxing gloves." This comparison does make some sense, although I feel it's a gross oversimplification of the film. Basically, the film follows a formula whereby the protagonist, Jimmy Smith (played by Eminem), struggles to break into the rap industry. At first he fails and loses confidence, then he goes through a variety of struggles that should by all rights have stripped away any remaining confidence he had, and finally he makes a decision to give it one last try despite all that's happened to him.
Although he faces deceptive friends, aloof studio execs, and hostile rappers, the real obstacle he must struggle with in pursuit of this goal is himself.
The basic plot begins with Rabbit losing an MC battle -- specifically, by choking up and getting boo'd off stage. In a world where prowess on the mic is equated with manhood, this is an esteem-shattering event. Jimmy's mood is not improved by returning home to his clinging, alcoholic mom, her deadbeat boyfriend, and his innocent, clueless baby sister. From this point, the plot takes us through Rabbit's new aversion to battling, a hypester friend who keeps promising him his next big break, and a collection of wannabe-MC friends who continually pull him in different directions and complicate his life with their often boneheaded antics. This is not to say that he doesn't add to the complication himself -- he does -- just that he often seems to be the one with a slightly more developed ability to see the forest for the trees and get his head above the clouds their heads seem to be immersed in constantly.
Along the way, Rabbit does his share of beating down, getting beaten down, and having his way with what appears to be a token female, who apparently still likes him enough to show up at his "big battle" even after he's beaten the living shiznit out of one of his "friends" when he catches her cheating on him with the other guy. I must add that this is the point at which the film falls down, and the reason I didn't give it a higher rating-- all the women in the film are portrayed either as pointless foils for male lust, or whining, shiftless, pathetic, manipulative alcoholics. In some ways I realize this must be a reflection of Eminem's own particular life experience with women, but even taking that into consideration, the objectification of women seems extreme. If the film had shown some respect for the female gender, I likely would have given it a 4.0.
In my own final analysis, this film is really about authenticity. Yes, it is gritty, and yes, it is dark, and yes, it is depressing in some ways, but I found it to be ultimately uplifting. The cinematography is tight, Eminem's nonverbal expressiveness is right up there with the best of freshman acting efforts, and the supporting cast does a decent job backing Rabbit's tortured journey. A must-see for rap fans, and not a bad flick to catch if you appreciate the usual rah-rah heroic comeback fare.
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