Judy Garland, look out. Eminem is going to put on a show. He's even got a girl around (Brittany Murphy) to keep things tense. Because as Garland and Mickey Rooney learned, the only point of getting together and putting on a show at all is to give everybody something to do before the big romantic clench at the end. Unfortunately, at the end of the movie 8 Mile, the only clench that happens worth speaking about is between Eminem and himself. No wonder this guy raps about white people, homosexuality, prescription medication and messed-up family lives. The only thing in the world that he's aware of enough to describe, discuss, and love is himself.
At least the worldview early in 8 Mile is a little larger. Director Curtis Hanson initially does good work with this paper-thin story of a lower-class young man (Eminem's Jimmy Smith Jr.) who's rendered impotent with rage that he cannot express. Rapping seems to be his only release, but since he's white, the hip-hop world of Detroit won't take him seriously. It's easy to see why: When we first meet Jimmy, he's preparing to go onstage as "Rabbit," but he's so nervous that he fails to say anything when the music starts. Silly Rabbit, your rapping is for kids, not the truly oppressed adults that fill the club. But since this is a story of the triumph of one young man's dream, it only takes a few hours of our lives for Eminem and his loyal pals (the doofus, the brainiac, and the sidekick) to make everyone understand that he's the master rapper in town. Call it dumbing down the house.
All of this could make 8 Mile an insulting mess of a film, except for one ironic bright spot: Eminem. The camera loves the guy. And - this should come as no surprise - he knows how to work the camera, shaping his image masterfully. He has commanding presence even when he's vulnerable. It's no accident that he won an Academy Award this past year for best original song; Hollywood knows a star when it sees one. It's likely that Eminem is destined for a long career onscreen. And that's fine. I hope he'll find better movies than 8 Mile to show off his talents. He might succeed -- just as long as he doesn't keep trying to convince us that he's living in the real world.
Publication date: 04/24/03