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Movies: 8 Mile

After a week of listening to me rave about Spirited Away, my wife resolved to go see it for herself. She and a friend trekked to the local dollar theater to see the seven o'clock showing, and, after checking the listings, I figured what the heck: I'd tag along and catch 8 Mile, which was playing at roughly the same time. Granted, I'd be seeing it by myself -- my efforts to recruit a companion for The Eminem Show were met with flat refusal by all I asked -- but, even solo, I expected it would be a adequate way to kill two hours while waiting for for The Queen.

As it turned out, 8 Mile was exactly that: nothing great, nothing original, nothing worth even recommending per se. But if you ever find yourself at a $3 Theater with 120 minutes on your hands, it's about as fine a time-killer as you're likely to find.

Eminem stars as, well, Eminem, I guess. I mean, he's called "Rabbit" in the film, but I am led to understand that the character he plays is loosely based on his own life: young, vaguely psychotic kid, living with his single, screwed-up Mom in Detroit, makes good -- or, at the very least, makes less bad. I could go on about the plot, but if you've seen Hoosier or Over the Top or Searching For Bobby Fisher or any movie that revolves around a competition of some sort, you already know how 8 Mile plays out. Suffice to say that the film opens with rap contest, ends with a rap contest, and spends much of the middle getting you from one to the other.

So rather than telling you what's in the movie, let me instead tell you what I was pleasantly surprised to find absent from this film.

Eminem songs: For a movie starring Eminem and telling the story of a thinly-disguised Eminem, there are remarkably few Eminem songs in the flick. Sure, he raps during the competitions, but throughout the rest of the story he breaks into rhyme only a handful of times. There are no moments contrived to feature his new hit single (Rabbit: "Hey, who wants to help me clean out my closet?"), no Eminem songs playing over the car radio as they drive around, etc. Why, you'd almost think they were more interested in making a movie than showcasing a celebrity. Likewise ...

Eminem PR: Eminem is not a likeable guy in this flick -- which is to say that the character, Rabbit, is not a likeable guy. He's pretty much a complete loser, actually. When he gets beat up, you're kinda rootin' for the assailants. In other words, 8 Mile is not an attempt to aggrandize or whitewash the career of Eminem. You may come out of the theater a little more sympathetic towards him, but you still won't want him to date your daughter.

High stakes: The "big contest" that Rabbit works the whole movie to win is, in fact, nothing more than a pissant little neighborhood "rap off". Unlike Rocky, he's not gunning for the World Championship; he just want one thing -- one tiny, insignificant thing -- to go right in life, for once. This makes the movie much more realistic, and, paradoxically, a lot more powerful.

Race politics: Eminem is white; the guys he raps against are black. So? The movie makes very little of this -- so little that this aspect of the plot is a little unbelievable, frankly. But it's a lot better than the alternative I'd feared: the filmmakers urging the audience to cheer for Rabbit because it would be cool for the white guy to beat all the minorities at their own game. (Here, let me put all that in scare quotes so that no one accuses me of advocating this view: it would be "cool" for the "white guy" to beat all the "minorities" at "their own game".) Screenwriter Scott Silver did a good job is divorcing race from the central story, and although this strips the plot of a lot of depth, it
also steers it clear of some philosophical landmines.

8 Mile will be on DVD soon; you should rent it. If it's still playing at your local theater, you might even want to catch it there. It's difficult to endorse because it's so forgettable, but you won't regret having seen it.

Posted on February 12, 2003 to Movies


so, did the hubby enjoy Spirited Away?

Posted by: owl on February 12, 2003 8:06 PM

Thanks for the movie commentary. Were you bothered by the level of spoken obscenities? I haven't seen the movie but read a review that counted the number of offensive words and it is unbelievable.

Posted by: Zelda on February 12, 2003 8:57 PM

I've seen it once and liked it and agree with what Matt is saying because its hard to explain. I'd like to read the screenplay so I can understand all the raps. Its probably worth seeing twice just for the raps. I'm also from that part of the country - DEE'TROI'YT in da house!

Posted by: Sincy on February 13, 2003 7:02 AM

I like that you used the word "pissant," although when you spell it like that people will tend to say it with the original French pronunciation.

Posted by: Mrs. Kennedy on February 13, 2003 7:53 AM

I enjoyed 8 Mile, although I was a bit disappointed in the ending -- it wasn't the enormous climax I had been hoping for. I thought Eminem acquitted himself well, but as you pointed out, it wasn't exactly a 'stretch' for him, acting-wise.

Posted by: Stacey on February 13, 2003 10:07 AM

My suggestion to Zelda: avoid "The Big Lebowski."

Posted by: Camper Bob on February 13, 2003 4:41 PM

it's worth it for the battle raps! telegraph road that is :)

Posted by: kenny on February 16, 2003 12:01 PM


Posted by: Mimi wo Sumaseba on February 16, 2003 1:23 PM

Don't waste your time; the movie is just average in most regards (acting, plot, credibility). Eminem may be a fine rapper but his acting skills are one dimensional and shallow, i.e., he displays no RANGE in emotion. Consequently, it's hard to root for his character, unlike Stallone's role in Rocky. Moreover, M&M's relationship with Brittney Murphy's character is entirely unrealistic and implausible. Phiper, however, puts in an excellent performance.

Posted by: Matt on March 22, 2003 10:31 PM