Dolemite Is My Name (2019)

CRAIG BREWER

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB

USA, 2019, Screenplay by , Cinematography by Produced by , , Music by Production Design by Costume Design by Film Editing by Golden Globe Awards 2019. Las Vegas Film Critics Awards 2019.   National Board of Review Awards 2019. North Carolina Film Critics Awards 2019. Philadelphia Film Critics Awards 2019.  Toronto International Film Festival 2019

Reaching his mid-forties and feeling like his opportunities to make it in show business have passed him by, Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy) sees his past attempts at music as failures that he might not ever overcome until one night, inspiration strikes: a vagrant who occasionally appears (and is summarily thrown out of) the record store where he works begins to spout rhyming poetry that fires up Moore’s spirits, leading to his creating a lavishly-dressed character named “Dolemite”, rich in vocabulary and gusto and an instant hit with the audiences who attend his late-night hosting act at a nightclub. Not content with winning over one room, Moore records a “live” gig in his own apartment and puts it out as an independent record, and it’s so successful that it gets a record company interested and leads to him releasing one album after the other, paying off his debts and making him financially flush for the first time. His records put him on the road for a series of successful live gigs but, ever the dreamer, Moore wants more: attending a screening of Billy Wilder’s The Front Page and, rightfully, wondering why the audience finds it funny, he sees the bright white light poring from the projection booth onto the giant canvas and believes that his next move has to be making a movie. This means more risks and rejections as he puts together a film using the barest of resources (including some good-natured assistance from local film students) and, having already enjoyed his rise to fame, we as an audience now cling to every peak and valley as he fights to turn his dream into a hit underground film. Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski follow their past successes with biopics about creative outsiders with another energetic look at an artist who beat the odds, and as with Ed Wood and The People Vs. Larry Flynt, they manage to make it impossible to tear your eyes away despite the fact that they’re not particularly interested in the character’s internal contradictions. Moore doesn’t have personal demons to overcome, his character has no internal contradictions, he must work past his own disappointment and the world’s resistance of him, but what played as dishonest and defensive in a similar portrayal of Larry Flynt (a wonderful movie in which he’s the cuddly hero who just wants the rest of the world to stop being so prudish) is sincere admiration and affection here.  In this brightly photographed and rewarding film, Murphy gives one of his richest and most exciting performances in years, driving the story forward with his enthusiasm and never letting the character’s pure and unselfish ambition ever come across as twee or simple. The entire cast of supporting players back him up with their own unforgettable characterizations, especially as character actor turned director D’Urville Martin and stealing the show as Moore’s self-proclaimed protégé and eventual good buddy Lady Reed (aka “Queen Bee”).

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