Comfortable and Furious

8 Mile (2002)

With Americans getting dumber by the minute, encouraged as they are by the most intellectually deficient chief executive in history, it comes as no surprise that 8 Mile smashed all box office expectations with a $50 million opening weekend. Certainly the forecasts were for a successful first run, but it is now clear that the desire to see Eminem display his acting chops was underestimated at best. This film seemed to cross demographic lines, capturing the expected teenage males and their vapid girlfriends who were no doubt forced, under threat of a beating, to attend, but older folks came out in droves as well, no doubt because of the unexpected closings of bingo parlors and bowling alleys across the country. While my experience was but one of many, I can attest to the opening of the sewers and how this, more than the expected attendance of the young, created a film that will almost certainly be among the most profitable of the year.

Given my local theater’s location in a hollowed-out shell of a mall, in the same neighborhood as an abandoned chicken restaurant and several dozen roach coaches, I knew that I would be forced to view this film as a lone Anglo. The scene, then, is clear and obvious: grotesquely outlined lips-a-plenty, dozens of rambunctious kids without their fathers, ear-bursting chatter devoid of any link to English, and a greater concentration of hairspray, bad taste, and tacky jewelry than anywhere else in Christendom. I waited patiently outside the theater, distracted as I was by the stained carpet and beeping cell phones (even amidst poverty, a cell phone is still seen as a Constitutional right). As I adjusted in my seat for maximum comfort, I cleared by ears of all unnecessary wax (knowing full well that I would need to have sharper hearing than usual), tried to avoid the spit and phlegm of Miss Typhoid Mary who sat behind me (my local theater resembles a TB ward more than it does a house of cinema), and awaited a masterpiece. It never came.

Instead, what I got were two hours of yet another triumph-over-adversity melodrama, whereby a plucky young lad (a la Saturday Night Fever, Rocky, The Karate Kid, or a dozen others) seeks to overcome his surroundings, stay true to himself, and achieve the American Dream of success. In this case, Eminem is Rabbit, a poor young man of inner-city Detroit, who works in one of the last remaining auto plants in the city, and lives in a trailer with his dippy (and bingo obsessed – surprise!) mother. He struggles to save enough money for a demo while competing in rapping contests, which are little more than a barrage of insults before an obnoxious crowd.

Rabbit leaves one woman for another (the whorish Brittany Murphy, who is nothing more than a load receptacle in this film), fights for independence, beats up his mother’s latest boyfriend (the stereotypical piece of white trash – unemployed and always talking about “that big check” that is expected but of course, never comes), and drives around aimlessly with his clueless friends. It might sound as if I am merely listing random events that occur in the film, but because nothing of an unexpected nature or originality occurs, I spent most of my time ticking off the cliches and obvious character traits. Need I mention that Rabbit chokes at first, only to triumph in the end?
The film is bleak, depressing, and grimy, but that has nothing to do with my overall displeasure and boredom.

I embrace, and prefer, films that stare unblinkingly into the abyss, but at the same time, I also expect daring – pushing cinema in new directions while challenging worn out conventions. Unfortunately, this film takes a tired premise, plugs in the star of the moment, and re-packages it all as “fresh” and “new.” It is neither. Without the hype that surrounds Eminem’s cinematic debut, this film would be instantly forgotten, more than likely a straight-to-video curiosity. Director Curtis Hanson adds even more respectability to the project, no doubt affecting most critics’ ability to assess the film objectively. Just as there are some who would give four stars to an eight-hour film of a blank wall if such a thing were directed by Scorsese, Altman, or these days, Peter Jackson, there as just as many who, despite not being able to admit it, love 8 Mile because they cannot divorce Hanson from L.A. Confidential or Wonder Boys.

Taken on its own merits, without the publicity machine behind it, the film leaves nary a mark; it is hollow, uneven, and puffed up with a level of importance is does not earn. I don’t ask that all characters be likable, but at least let me into their world. These people, in contrast, stand apart and detached; and I can’t stand their company.

Ruthless Ratings

  • Number of times Frederick Douglass was mentioned in the script: 1
  • Number of other people in the theater who recognized the name: 0
  • Number of people in the theater who, despite having no familiarity with figures of the past, are the first to bitch about being denied civil rights: 87
  • Number of times I thought the opening scene was too similar to the closing scene of Raging Bull: 3
  • Number of my fellow patrons who also got that reference: 0
  • Percentage of young viewers who know every Eminem lyric by heart: 100
  • Percentage of those same young viewers who have been, or will be, diagnosed with ADD, ADHD, or some other “disability” which allegedly prevents them from remembering information for tests: 100