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**** THE EMINEM SHOW ****
on April 16, 2003
So here it is, the movie ï¿½debutï¿½ of Eminem, the man once referred to by President Bush as 'the most dangerous threat to American children since polio'. Directed by Curtis Hanson (previously responsible for the excellent LA Confidential), Marshall Mathers III stars as Jimmy ï¿½B. Rabbitï¿½ Smith, a wannabe rapper struggling to break of a life of poverty on the wrong side of Detroitï¿½s 8 Mile Road.
8 Mile opens with B. Rabbit about to go on stage to take part in an open mic rap contest at a rap venue called ï¿½The Shelterï¿½. Plagued by nerves, he throws up in the bathroom and down his sweater before going on stage, where in front of a cynical and somewhat hostile back audience he completely dries up in an embarrassing case of stage fright. Homeless and car-less after splitting up with his ï¿½pregnantï¿½ girlfriend he has to return to his motherï¿½s trailer home, whereupon he disturbs his mother (Kim Basinger) mid-coital with her younger lover Greg. As if that is not embarrassing enough his mother later confides to a horrified Rabbit that she is having problems with her sex life because Greg wont go down on her.
Almost everything in 8 Mile suggests that this is less than fiction and whilst perhaps not quite autobiographical it is certainly quasi-autobiographical. Much like a pre-superstardom Eminem, his character Jimmy has an absentee father, he hangs around with a multiracial crew and takes part in rapping competitions. Jimmyï¿½s mother is a drunken fool neglecting her four-year old daughter, whilst living with a no-good loser virtually the same age as her son, in a squalid trailer. Jimmyï¿½s crew dream of becoming rap stars and see their rhyming skills as being their best hope of getting out of the inner city deprivation and urban wasteland of Americaï¿½s famous motor city. However, whilst dreaming of a way out of the urban wasteland and poverty that surrounds him Rabbit still has to work a day job in a steel pressing plant where his boss gives him a hard time for his time-keeping and attitude.
Eminem is not just the most famous rapper in America, he is quite simply the biggest star on the planet. In the superstardom stakes he is, if you will pardon the comparison, the new Michael Jackson (without the chimp, the plastic surgery, the dance moves and with a great deal more profanity). Of course 8 Mile isn't actually Eminemï¿½s film debut; that was in The Wash, Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg's ill-conceived remake of the 70ï¿½s flick ï¿½Car Washï¿½, where he made a cameo appearance as a phone-stalker psycho. As The Wash proved, rap artists donï¿½t necessarily make great actors or great films (remember Vanilla Ice in the cringeworthy Cold As Ice anyone?) and with the exception of Ice Cube and Tupac Shakur, very few have actually made the transition from music to movies as well as this.
Perhaps not an obviously heroic figure Eminem's public persona has been somewhat modified in his role as Jimmy ï¿½Rabbitï¿½ Smith. Jimmyï¿½s actions are anti-homophobic (he comes to the defence of one of his gay colleagues), he is positively passive (rather than verbally violent) to all the women in his life regardless of how much they wrong him. Indeed the movie opens with Rabbit having given his car and home away to his ex-girlfriend who claims to be pregnant and he returns to his momï¿½s trailer where he raps an improvised lullaby to his little sister. For much of the movie, Rabbit is a brooding somewhat introverted character. He travels to his work on the bus, headphones on, hooded and scribbling down new ideas for lyrics. However the movie and Eminem both come alive during the rap battles, which are central to the plot, where rival rappers verbally tear each other limb from limb in front of a hostile crowd. Taunting Rabbit with cries of ï¿½Elvisï¿½ and comments about his mother and their trailer park home, this is Eminem in his equivalent of Rockyï¿½s boxing ring or General Maximus Decimus Meridusï¿½s coliseum. Rabbit must overcome his own fears and self-doubt in order to emerge triumphant.
Out-with this critics will say that Director Curtis Hanson (The Wonder Boys) has deliberately restricted Eminem to a range of acting, which does not require much flexing of thespian muscle. However, this is something of a moot point because it works. Eminem looks good. It is a credible and understated performance and 8 Mile is an entertaining and uplifting movie, which showcases his great talent. As always, Curtis Hansonï¿½s direction is flawless and he has surrounded Slim Shady with an excellent supporting cast. In particular, Mekhi Phifer (ER) as Rabbitï¿½s best buddy ï¿½Futureï¿½, Brittany Murphy (Donï¿½t Say A Word) as would be trashy new girlfriend Alex, Evan Jones as the dopey Cheddar Bob and Kim Basinger are all excellent.
Perhaps not the most original story ever told, 8 Mile has been compared to Rocky, Saturday Night Fever and A Star Is Born. However, it is refreshing to see that 8 Mile is free of a traditional Hollywood ending and instead finishes on a more realistic note with an important message; Dreams cannot be realised if all you do is dream. Hard work and perseverance are the keys to success and the only person you can totally rely upon is yourself.