This weekend, I saw 8 Mile primarily because of positive reviews by the Village Voice, Salon, and by the New York Times, the latter of which pronounced the movie a success “on its own terms because the director doesn’t condescend to pop music.” I will clearly admit that I expected the movie to suck, the positive reviews notwithstanding. There were, however, several strong points to the film (and I will try not to give away anything for the peeps who haven’t seen the flick): (1) Though Eminem delivers fewer lines than your average lead role, his performance is remarkably strong — a commendable role as a first-time lead. Indeed, as B. Rabbit, Eminem successfully conveys emotion through silence. This allows director Curtis Hanson (of L.A. Confidential fame) to limit the opportunities for the first-time lead actor to reveal his inexperience. (2) The soundtrack is straight dope. I haven’t been able to locate free downloads, but check out Eminem’s homepage, where “Eminem Radio” is currently in the works. (3) Perhaps a slight nod of recognition to peaking criticism of gun violence in rap music, guns were clearly depicted in a bad light through certain comical scenes. But neither the rap world nor Hollywood has gone soft on us: just because poppin’ a cap in that ass wasn’t glorified, that doesn’t mean the movie didn’t have its share of beat-downs. (4) Brittany Murphy (Riding in Cars With Boys, Don’t Say a Word) played Eminem’s saucy love interest in a well-written script that wisely avoids the melodrama of most tangential romantic interludes in Hollywood movies. Each character exhibits a conspicuous sense of ambition and self-preservation, which prevents the romance from getting carried away. As such, the very reason that the relationship remains an aside to the plot renders the script an even greater success.
But 8 Mile is by no means all good. To be sure, it reeks of a public relations move on Eminem’s part — that is, Eminem’s character maintains a healthy friendship with a gay man and is cordial, even loving, with his mother and sister. Because of the similarities between the plot and the rapper’s real life, these storyline aspects seem to your humble narrator to be not-so-covert attempts to cure criticism of past homophobic lyrics and lyrical depictions of maternicide — two prominent reasons why conservatives have their undies in a bunch over his music. Is Eminem trying to appease the conservative crowd? Obviously not; they don’t buy his records (even though their kids do, but hell, they don’t care about family values). The movie, however, does reinforce Eminem’s continuing assertion that his combat prose is an art form, not a celebration of violence for violence’s sake. The mere fact of a public relations move, though, takes away some of the movie’s credibility, as I can’t help but see it more in the light of a cog in the choo-choo train that is the entertainment industry, than a serious theatrical endeavor. Further, for how good Eminem is (and he is good), the fact that the movie is virtually an autobiography of his life detracts to a small extent from his thespian success. Eminem is not asked in 8 Mile to step outside the realm of his own life and assume a role wholly dissimilar from his roots. Recognize that this criticism should not be enough to keep you at home watching Skinemax on a Saturday night. The movie is worthwhile — for further critical analysis read the above-linked reviews by critics who know far more about movies than I.