One film that I missed in a big way late in 2019 is “Dolemite Is My Name”, a Netflix original that debuted just before Halloween but has since become a Golden Globe nominee and Oscar contender. Billed as a comeback film for Eddie Murphy who plays “the Godfather of Rap” and blaxploitation film star Rudy Ray Moore whose fictional persona Dolemite lends its name to the movie’s title, this biopic has gained quite a bit of buzz as one of the year’s best films in the eyes of many critics. A lot of times I make the mistake of overlooking Netflix originals but in recent years the streaming service has become quite the legitimate distributor and this movie, along with the likes of “The Irishman” and “Roma”, have become prime examples of its quality choice in films. So, playing a bit of catchup, I decided to give the movie a chance myself and see if I agreed with the overwhelming praise it has received. Is it really one of the year’s best? Let’s find out in my review of “Dolemite Is My Name”.
One thing I will say about “Dolemite Is My Name” is that the career resurgence of Eddie Murphy is genuinely in full swing. Murphy has earned a Golden Globe nomination for his role in the film and the movie itself has nod for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and I can see why. Murphy is by far the best thing about this movie and is completely on board with bringing his larger-than-life character to the screen. Murphy delves into the nuances and humanizing elements of Rudy Ray Moore quite well refusing to glorify the filmmaker, comedian and rap God but rather delving into his flaws and lust for fame in a way that reminds us that Moore was just a regular person like everyone else who found a niche and exploited it, creating an entire subculture of entertainment geared toward the African American community in the process. While Murphy might be the clear star of the film he doesn’t overshadow some other impressive, and at times against type performances by the likes of Keegan-Michael Key, Craig Robinson, Mike Epps and Wesley Snipes just to name a few as well as a statement performance from stage star Da’Vine Joy Randolph in her most prominent role to date on the big screen playing Moore’s good friend Lady Reed. The likes of Snoop Dogg, T.I. Harris and Chris Rock also make appearances turning “Dolemite Is My Name” into a fun showcase of some of the biggest African American’s in entertainment of the past few decades without the star power of these cameos ever weighing down the film.
This star power works to the films advantage by injecting it with a great sense of humor while never overshadowing the drama beneath the surface. The cast is experienced and they know how to handle every moment without giving too much or too little. It all helps sell Moore’s struggles for relevance, especially in a different time in America’s history. His story is relatable and his ever-present positivity makes his eventual success all the more satisfying. At its core, “Dolemite Is My Name” is a story about a real-life man who proved that while fame and success are not easy to obtain, with enough persistence and dedication to the craft you can find success all the same. Think of it as the black version of “Ed Wood”, a story that tells us that beauty and success might just be in the eye of the beholder and that the joy of success comes from the accomplishment as much as the attention received. Over the course of the film we see Moore struggling to find success and credibility but the irony is that at the start it seems like his quality material is overlooked and his desperation for success have overpowered his love for the art. It takes making a critically panned movie and having fun with it with those he trusts and has bonded with for him to find comfort in his own accomplishment even despite the potential lack of success. That there is the central message this film tries to portray and thanks to great writing and subtle moments of humanity mixed in between the humor and sarcasm “Dolemite Is My Name” captures that sentiment perfectly reminding us that it takes hard work to accomplish a goal but that it doesn’t have to be so serious that it takes all the fun out of the adventure.
But even with all of that there was just something so ordinary about this movie that I couldn’t overlook. It didn’t seem very special or attention grabbing, it just felt like a pretty generic film. A very good film, but not a terribly memorable one. I will say I think that one of the movie’s strongest aspects is that it finds enough of a balance to be interesting and engaging without having to take extra chances. If the movie had tried harder to make me laugh, to make its central character’s story more outrageous, to make his story more human and believable it could have easily created an imbalance in tone and sacrificed story for entertainment, but it also could have made for a better overall product. It’s important to pose the question though: how many people know about Rudy Ray Moore before they go into the movie? Probably not a lot, especially from my generation, but you WILL know and respect him after you watch it. When we’re watching the movie we want to know more, we’re all aboard for the ride and before we know it, we’re having fun and learning important lessons about where the true value of art and success really lies and the story feels so outrageous that once you realize it’s based on true events it makes it much more interesting. Cap that off with fun performances, a great cast, and effective writing and I can kind of see why this movie is getting so much love even if I don’t see it as anything close to a masterpiece. It’s the Goldilocks effect…not too much…not too little…it’s just right and it’s content with being just right but that keeps it from being so much more.
“Dolemite Is My Name” is an impressive film in its own way. Like the man who is center stage in its narrative, this movie finds its own way of being rewarding and fun and engaging even if it’s not very memorable. I do think it’s critical praise might be a little overblown and I’m not going to call it as one of the year’s best, but it’s a perfectly fine movie that does everything it needs to do to be considered must see at least once. Driven by an awesome comeback performance by Eddie Murphy “Dolemite Is My Name” doesn’t have to go the extra mile to be interesting or complex but it could have benefited from doing a little bit more with what it had. It’s a very good, but not great movies in my opinion that I do highly recommend even if it wont be among my favorite movies of 2019.