As Bob Dylan said, ‘the times they are a changing’. As the times change, the landscape of cinema seems to be changing too. With that change comes a lot of resistance. After Alfonso Cuarón’s Netflix film Roma (2018) received 10 Oscar nominations and 3 wins, many members of the Academy showed their dissatisfaction with the famed streaming services’ success. Many of them fear that Roma’s success will eventually lead to Netflix and streaming to completely take over the cinema experience, in turn encouraging audiences to stay home. The good news is that if we continue Netflix films such as Dolemite Is My Name, we can take comfort in knowing that quality films will never die.
Directed by Craig Brewer from the Oscar nominated, Hustle & Flow (2005) with a script by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, Dolemite Is My Name follows the real life story of comedian/singer/actor/producer, Rudy Ray Moore, with Eddie Murphy in the role. Specifically the film covers Rudy’s rise to cult fame and the struggle to produce his first feature film, based on his comedian alter-ego, Dolemite. Fitting neatly into the category of films about films along with The Disaster Artist (2017) and Ed Wood (1994), Brewer and company follow the conventions yet also manage to deliver an irresistible and charming new spin on the genre. The key to that irresistible charm being Eddie Murphy himself.
At first glance, Murphy is not the most obvious choice for the role. When you compare him to the real life Rudy Ray Moore, there’s no way in hell you’d get them confused. Fortunately likeness is not everything, as Murphy completely disappears into his performance from the very first scene. Watching him passionately try to get his music past a stuffy radio host and refusing to get discouraged just puts a smile on your face. A smile which persists all because Rudy himself continues to persist in the face of negativity. In the hands of a lesser performer, it is possible for Rudy’s passion to get old and annoying. However, in Murphy’s hands it is wonderfully infectious. Just like all the supporting characters, you are completely drawn to him and you actually understand why his work found an audience. It’s also just nice to see Murphy back in top form after quite a long period of disappointment.
As far as the supporting cast goes, Murphy is in fantastic company. Wesley Snipes shows up in a prominent role as D’Urville Martin, an actor who reluctantly agrees to direct Rudy’s film. This is a far cry from the stoic badasses that Snipes is known for, giving some of his best work in years as this hilariously wide-eyed diva who is dripping in self-importance. It really is a treat to see Snipes play against type so effectively.
Even with heavy hitters like Murphy and Snipes in the mix, the brightest standout amongst the supporting players is Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Lady Reed. Not only does she own some of the best and biggest laughs, but her characterisation is gracefully tied to one of the film’s major themes of providing opportunities for those that don’t usually get them. The piece never bangs its audience over the head with these ideas, but rather lets Randolph’s charming performance bring it out naturally. The rest of the cast is a rolodex of old faces and newer faces. This includes Keegan-Michael Key, Mike Epps, Craig Robinson, Tituss Burgess, Bob Odenkirk and Kodi Skit-McPhee, all of whom do solid work. Although you sometimes can’t remember all the characters’ names and what exactly sets them apart from each other. Some of them only getting developed as far as being ‘the music guy’ or ‘the costume guy’.
Ultimately it all works as well as it does due to just seeing how this one misunderstood artist and his band of misfits refused to say no. Sure, we got that same concoction from other films in the genre, but this time around we weren’t subjected to watching a hurricane of bad decisions and bad attitudes lead to cult status. This time we got to see enjoyment, passion and excitement from a likeable lead and his group of likeable friends. The process of making their art was an exercise in fun, even if what they were making was a massive train wreck according to the critics at the time.
With a funky vibe and many energetic montages, Brewer never once tells us to look down on Rudy. We are right there with him having just as much fun as he is, which in turn puts us right there with the audience that loved him back in the day. Brewer gives us ‘a complete entertainment experience’ just as Rudy himself would say. We are in on the fun and understand its importance to all the fans that loved what they saw. It may not become the classic that Ed Wood is and it may not become as popular as The Disaster Artist, but it certainly is the most enjoyable to watch (If nothing else it has the most hilariously bizarre sex scene you’ll see for a while).
It is still unclear at this time if Dolemite Is My Name will have any success in the coming awards race. The contention around Netflix and streaming is still a bit of a hot-button issue. With a bit of luck, Eddie Murphy is hopefully going to receive a nomination as it would be a terrible shame for his electric performance to go unnoticed. Even when putting the awards discussion aside, Dolemite Is My Name is definitely worth your time and can hold its own against anything that got a cinema release.
Best way to watch it: In a double feature with the Disaster Artist. Compare the pair.