R. As much as I want everyone to watch this movie, it's pretty darned offensive. Starting at just an impressive amount of language, the movie has a lot of sex and nudity. It's kind of the central premise. I know that makes me sound really skeezy that I'm recommending a pretty filthy movie, but I'll get to that later. There's a ton of offensive content and if you know anything about Rudy Ray Moore, then that should come as a given. R.
DIRECTOR: Craig Brewer
Okay, yeah! It's really offensive! I can't stress that enough. But I also don't think I've enjoyed a ton of movies on the level that I enjoyed Dolemite is My Name in the past year. (The capitalization on IMDb is silly. I also should lowercase the "m", but this is my compromise.) There's something about a movie that is ABOUT making movies in the indie style somehow pushes my buttons. Like, this hits all kinds of great buttons about wanting to make it. I should confess that I didn't know much about Rudy Ray Moore before going into this movie. I know that Dolemite movies rented fairly regularly when I was working at the video store. I've seen my share of blaxspoitation films, but Dolemite always was on the to-watch list. I do have to say, in an attempt to give my blog a little bit of cred, I followed watching Dolemite is My Name with a screening of the original Dolemite film. It's not quite the way I like to play things, but you take what you can.
It's hard to sell that a movie as dirty as this has so much heart. I can't say that Eddie Murphy is doing a tonally perfect impression of Rudy Ray Moore. After watching Dolemite, I realize that Murphy is just kind of resting in his favorite voice. But I don't want to detract that from his performance overall. While I love absolutely perfect impressions when it comes to biopics, there might be something about getting the essence of a character without actually just duplicating things. Murphy's primary goal is to make Rudy Ray Moore completely human and he does that in spades. For the length of the film, I kept wondering what I thought about that performance and I can officially say it did the job. It was because I didn't know Moore's mannerisms before going into this film that made it work. I've heard Eddie Murphy do that voice before, but it comes more from Murphy's vulnerability, which I wasn't used to seeing. There are elements that make him a scumbag, and I want to discuss that later. But there are also these moments that show real heart. His relationship with Queen Bee is wonderful.
When we get the story of the quick success, like Bohemian Rhapsody or Rocketman, we always seem to get the tale of the inflated ego that thinks its better than everyone else. Dolemite is My Name handles that moment so much better. The core of the movie is in this relationship. I adore that Moore is someone who seems to have aged himself out of success only to find it. But the victory of the film lies with Queen Bee. Okay, Rudy Ray Moore was obsessed with sex and hot ladies. I can't say he's progressive on that front. But he meets this woman who has a cheating husband. She's overweight and alone and he decides to take her under his wing. It's not later in life, when he has nothing to lose. Moore is this guy who burned bright and fast. He had no idea how long that this success was going to last and he decided to share that wealth the second he got it. It never seemed to be sexual, but he recognized the outsider in Bee. It's this absolutely perfect story that makes Moore a genuine hero.
And that's actually a pretty difficult idea to sell in a movie like this. If I had to summarize the movie for you, it would be about a loser who is obsessed with fame. He steals a bunch of homeless guys' jokes and rises high in the clubs. He releases a bunch of offensive albums with naked girls on the cover and decides that he's not famous enough. So he makes a movie that bankrupts everyone he knows until it finally works. From that description, he seems like a complete jerk. But it's the way he treats everyone along the way that sells the movie. There's the one obligatory scene where he loses his cool, but that screams "storytelling". The character has to lose everything before gaining it back. But Moore, for all of his ego and desperation to gain fame, actually seems like a really cool dude in this. Part of what makes Dolemite work is the collaboration he keeps with the people who got him there the entire time.
If anything, Dolemite is My Name is a celebration of artists supporting artists. Yeah, they give each other nonsense through the entire film. It's ribbing and it's adorable. But Craig Robinson's character was this guy who had moderate success in his music. Without thinking, he sees constant failure Rudy Ray Moore find a little bit of footing...and he jumps in. An artist wants to see another artist succeed. That's the Queen Bee thing. Moore sees Bee floundering, and he helps her. Tituss Burgess isn't a manager. His character never even thought of himself as a producer or a manager, but he's there for the entire situation. It's because these people were there for Moore when things weren't good that they stick around for when things are good. I'm really gushing by this point.
I can't speak enough about Moore's influence on others, because of this movie. I love Keegan-Michael-Key's Jerry and the arc that he goes through in the film. Jerry is a guy who has made it locally. He considers himself as part of the community, but in a high position. He's in this liminal state that puts him in a place of being an advocate, but also above common culture. It's the high art / low art character. Jerry's reasoning for being an avatar for the arts makes sense: he knows that art can change how we live. So his reticence to join Dolemite makes all the sense in the world. But, from an audience's perspective, we just want to say, "C'mon. It'll be fun." And we see Jerry get squeezed and squeezed, only to eventually submit to something that ended up being one of the most fun things that he's ever done. It's not an artificial shift. It's these small moments where Jerry becomes part of the squad and it's perfect. There's a line that may be more of a critique of Jerry's imposter syndrome where he's defending the more absurd elements of the Dolemite script that explains that moment where he shifts out of stodgy Jerry. I don't know anything about the real Jerry Jones, but I'm not sure if the movie is selling that he's not a great writer. Regardless, Jerry is great.
It's odd to see Wesley Snipes in anything. This is a completely heartless thing to say, but there's a weird silver lining to having Snipes out of prison. *Geez, I hate myself right now*. Snipes was obsessed with being a big action Hollywood star. Seeing him in a movie like this is perfect for him. His performance is way more nuanced than anything I've seen him do previously. It's an honest-to-goodness acting. He's a bit of a villain for the piece in the smallest way possible. But it really works for him. It's kind of ironic that Snipes's character thinks that he's too big for this film because that's how I could read him being in Dolemite is My Name.
Being lame, I don't know what's hilarious about Rudy Ray Moore's comedy. But I can say that the movie is marvelously charming. It hits all of the buttons that Be Kind Rewind did, but with a raunch and vulnerability other movies haven't. I'm not surprised that Craig Brewer directed Hustle & Flow because he's got the voice of someone who gets the vulnerability of trying. (I mean, I am now realizing they are very similar movies with different tones.) Regardless, Dolemite is My Name should have garnered some Oscar attention. Maybe the content wasn't palatable for some, but I think it really works.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.