Dolemite Is My Name (2019)
director: Craig Brewer | runtime: 1h 57mins | comedy, biography, drama
The story of Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy), a once struggling entertainer who found new life in a comedy/rap style. But even after success on stage, he decided to make his own movie and in doing so, immortalize his alter-ego Dolemite.
The beauty of Dolemite Is My Name is how much it stands for, both on it’s surface and in the depth of it’s character. Without a doubt Dolemite (or Rudy Ray Moore) is an icon of the Blaxploitation cinema, which was never about highlighting strong film craft but rather to create a bigger representation for it’s audience. It’s sense of historical importance comes from centuries of fighting for a better life, and there is no one more perfect to lead this ode than of Rudy Ray Moore. Neither a genius or particularly talented, it’s in the resiliency of Moore that you find the true essence of why his success was so raw, and that is something this film captures so truly.
The big ode’s aside, there’s a strong representation for the quirky, the people that, in the face of adversity, still manage to make a fantastic career for themselves because of their drive or outright individualism. It’s these people who make for the more interesting biopics, like Man on the Moon (1999) which immortalised the talent of Andy Kaufman through the lens of Milos Forman. Or even The Disaster Artist (2017) who’s tale of the ‘best worst movie ever made’ was surprisingly brought to life in comedic fashion at the helm of James Franco. Both these characters share the same individual movements of Rudy Ray Moore, and what Brewer does with his film is avoid the temptation to over stylise but rather embrace the natural style of it’s era and the resiliency of it’s leading character and star, Eddie Murphy.
There is a poetic parallel to Murphy and Moore’s story, as Moore’s resurgence is played by Murphy in the midst of his own. The only difference between the two is that Moore’s ‘heyday’ was barely one of fame, whereas Murphy for a long time sat proudly in the face of his own adversity, during the wonderful time of Trading Places (1983) and Beverly Hills Cop (1984), as the hottest comedic actor around. But where the parallel features so heavily is in both men’s latter years, and it’s for that reason that Murphy’s performance is able to resonate so much. Much like the film he understands that it’s comedy, but he switches momentum in the times of hardship with ease. There is no denying Murphy’s talent as an actor, but Moore (or Dolemite) may just be his career-best. He harbours the same energy that made him such a draw nearly 30 years ago, but also manages to give himself a level of nuance in his dramatic scenes, some of which we haven’t seen since his Oscar nominated performance in Dreamgirls (2006). But the biggest delight you’ll find is that even this far into his career, Eddie Murphy isn’t ready to settle, he wants more and in doing so has challenged his own ability, something that pays off in abundance during Dolemite is My Name.
Structurally, Brewer may not be breaking boundaries. You could argue that in it’s simplest form this film drifts from one problem to fix to another, in very episodic fashion. But the story is about overcoming, it does exactly what Rudy Ray Moore spent his life doing, hurdling towards the finishing line with obstacles blocking his way. It’s both a raw expression of human resiliency and for all the film’s style it still realistically portrays the fatigue of everyday struggle with a bombardment of problems ranging from small to big. In particular, one problem they encounter is how to shoot Dolemite’s sex scene. Trying to make himself a classic Hollywood hunk archetype is not something that was going to work so instead they choose the route of ceiling crashing, chandelier swinging, obscenely over the top kind of sex, which in turn gives the film it’s funniest moment. But as the entire crew erupts into laughter, including Wesley Snipes as the entitled Black Caesar (another great performance), there’s a moment of genuine camaraderie.
These small moments, and the depth of this movies representation, is the reason it deserves so much praise. Neither over-stylised or underperformed, Brewer manages to find individuality within his biopic, and that’s partly due to one hell of cast including Keegan-Michael Key, Craig Robinson, Mike Epps, Wesley Snipes and an electrifying performance from Da’Vine Joy Randolph. But this film would be nowhere without Eddie Murphy, who showcases just how funny he can be, while also revitalising his reputation with the strong words of the film’s screenwriters. Dolemite is his name, and he’s now immortalised.