The new film, 8 Mile, travels down the well-trodden path where films like Flashdance, Fame, Purple Rain, Save the Last Dance and Billy Elliot have gone before it. All of these films show kids with some great artistic talent but who are growing up in poverty, overcoming some great adversity. In the end, driven to practise their art, they triumph. 8 Mile does not deviate much from the playbook for such movies. It tells the story of a young man (Eminem) who has grown up, literally, in a trailer park on the wrong side of the tracks. The title of the movie refers to the street in Detroit that divides the black inner city from the white suburbs. 8 Mile is a fictionalized retelling of Eminem's own upbringing. In the movie, he is a fairly typical slacker youth, barely holding onto a job or a girlfriend and hanging with his friends. He has no place to live and has to move back to the trailer park with his alcoholic mother (Kim Basinger), his sweet little sister and his mother's nasty boyfriend. But he lives for his art, which in 8 Mile, is Rap. He has broken up with his girlfriend but soon meets a new interesting babe (Brittany Murphy). The plot is set up in the first scene of the movie when Eminem fails miserably in a Rap equivalent of the Battle of the Bands at a Detroit club where he is the only white guy for miles around. The title of this movie should refer to the distance to the next white person in Detroit. In this way, 8 Mile is similar to the recent Save the Last Dance, where Julia Stiles is the only white person for miles around. One has to suspend one's disbelief as Hollywood once again uses a white person to tell a story that would naturally have been played by an African-American. To be fair to 8 Mile, Eminem did actually grow up in this kind of neighborhood. Anyway, the only white people around, other than Eminem's family, are one member of his posse, and his new and ex-girlfriends.
The cast is quite good. Part of this is due to the excellent skills of Brian Grazer (Ron Howard's partner in crime) as producer and Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential, Wonder Boys) as director. Eminem does a good job of playing himself. Kim Basinger really eats the scenery as she tries to outdo Robin Wright (White Oleander) for best performance as Trailer Trash. Basinger is pretty good but I give the nod to Wright. Basinger looks a little too good. I noticed in the final credits that she had one person for makeup and another for body makeup. Also in the credits was "Logistics Coordinator for Eminem." Never seen that credit before! Murphy (Clueless, Girl, Interrupted) who is really churning out the movies, is excellent as Eminem's love interest. The guys playing Eminem's pals are a good group. I don't know the actors except that the really big guy had a guest spot on The West Wing this week. Mekhi Phifer, best known as the annoying Dr. Pratt on ER, is almost unrecognizable under a heap of dreadlocks playing the Rap-Battle promoter.
8 Mile does a fairly good
job of trying to vary a well-worn storyline. I particularly liked
the fact that even though this is meant to be a story about the mean streets,
that Eminem's pals are real, goofy teenagers could have been taken straight
out of Wayne's World.
Also, Brittany Murphy, rather than just being the typical girlfriend rooting
for the hero, plays the female version of Eminem, doing everything she
can to get up and out of the neighborhood. This leads to a unique
last exchange between Eminem and Murphy during the inevitable final scene
where Eminem returns to the Rap Battle. It is nice to see this use
of a female character considering the misogynistic nature of Rap in general
and Eminem in particular. I have to say that I am an easy mark for
this kind of movies. It's hard not to be rooting for the hero when
he/she is up on stage at the end of the movie. And 8 Mile
is no different.