On Thursday, November 8, we’ll be continuing our movie series at Alamo Drafthouse with 8 Mile.
How did Eminem not become a movie star? That’s the question fans and critics alike are still asking, since 8 MILE a semi-autobiographical drama that marked the rapper’s first lead role, was a major success and even won a best original song Oscar for its electrifying theme, “Lose Yourself.”
As Jimmy Smith Jr., known to friends and family as “Rabbit,” Eminem projects rough-edged charisma and an almost palpable intensity. While the role has a fairly narrow emotional range — most of the time, Rabbit is either quietly steaming or venting — it’s demanding because Rabbit is in every scene of the film. That’s an enormous burden to put on an inexperienced actor, but Eminem never appears overwhelmed by it.
The star is fortunate to have excellent support from Mekhi Phifer, Evan Jones and a bedraggled-looking Kim Basinger, as well as from director Curtis Hanson (L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, WONDER BOYS), who knows how to put an unexpected kick into an otherwise straightforward scene. The streets of Detroit also play a key role and it’s doubtful the Chamber of Commerce used 8 MILE to attract newcomers to town: Production designer Philip Messina portrays the Motor City as a Godforsaken wasteland of rusty cars, peeling paint, cracked asphalt and torched houses.
The screenplay by Scott Silver positions Rabbit as the successor to Tony Manero of SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER and, perhaps more directly, Prince’s The Kid in PURPLE RAIN. Rabbit works a mind-numbing job at a stamping plant and spends his spare time working on sharpening up his rhyming skills for weekly “battles” at clubs like The Shelter. After a falling-out with girlfriend Janeane (Taryn Manning), Rabbit unwillingly moves back in with his woebegone mother Stephanie (Basinger), who lives in a trailer with a pre-school-aged daughter and an out-of-whack boyfriend (Michael Shannon) who turns out to be one of Rabbit’s former classmates from high school.
Bad luck and lack of resources combine to give Rabbit a full inventory of frustrations and insecurities that he must learn to channel into his writing. One of the most fascinating bits in 8 MILE shows Rabbit listening to a tape of a rhythm track and trying to put together a rap. The lyrics come to him in bits and pieces, leaving gaps that he’ll have to fill with something he hasn’t thought of yet. It’s a superb illustration of the agonizing creative process, in which inspirations and ideas have to be processed and translated into words.
When Rabbit finally conjures up the courage to face down his enemies in a war of words, it’s every bit as exciting as John Travolta’s dance floor moves in FEVER or Prince’s climactic numbers in RAIN. All of the young man’s experiences are boiled down into a red-hot stream of street poetry that’s raw, hilarious and lethal. (James Sanford)
After the screening, join us for a special DJ inspired by the movie at the House of Wax!