by Michael Goldberg
Monday, November 18, 2002
Eminem Revisited (Sort Of)
In which the writer admits that he, well, thinks Eminem is a damn good actor
So I went to the Eminem movie. Yep. "8 Mile."
OK. You're already smirking, if not laughing. He went to see "8 Mile"? What's up with that, you're thinking. He hates Eminem. Everyone knows that. He thinks people who like Eminem are lame. I know, I know.
It's true. I am the guy who hates Eminem. I've devoted good column space to ranting about him. How mediocre he is as a rapper, lyricist, musician, producer, you name it. I'm not the first to have pointed out that he's homophobic and misogynistic. Not only that, I tore into all the rock critics on the Eminem bandwagon, putting them down as lame trend-hoppers trying to salvage their rock journalist careers, or worse, actually self-hypnotized into thinking his albums are good.
When it comes to Eminem, I don't like it. Or least that was where I was coming from, until I saw his movie. That's all behind me now..
Well, actually, most of that isn't behind me. I still think his albums suck.. But when it comes to Eminem, movie star, I'm down. Really.
It's all because of "8 Mile." I'd heard that Eminem was acting in his first film, but it wasn't until he made the cover of the November 3 issue of The New York Times Magazine that I began to focus. Oh, this Eminem movie is about to be released! The cover story, "American Idol: Eminem, for Everyone," by Frank Rich, was a slick puff piece. Rich, another of those supposedly serious journalists who suddenly sound like fanzine writers when covering Eminem, added 3,000 or so more words to the "All Praise Eminem" heap.
Still, even as I tensed up and began muttering to myself (as I do when I read these pro-Eminem articles and reviews), by the end of the article I had gotten the distinct idea that I might want to, well, actually go see the movie. After all, it's produced by Brian Grazer, who co-produced "A Beautiful Mind," and directed by Curtis Hanson ("L.A. Confidential," "Wonder Boys"). Both of Hanson's previous movies were exceptional. Yeah, gotta see what this is all about, I decided.
I checked the film out during the opening weekend, viewing it in a theater not far from my home. My $10 (actually, my $20, since I brought along my lovely wife) contributed to the $50-plus million the film grossed in its first three days. You could even say that, in a small way, I'm helping the guy live large.
Bottom line, though, is that Eminem is a "natural" when it comes to acting. You know how movie critics and magazine writers who profile movie stars will sometimes say something like "The camera loves Julia Roberts..."? Well, you could say that about Eminem. Or at least I could say that. 'Cause it's true.
In the movie Eminem plays a kid nicknamed "Rabbit," a poor aspiring rapper who lives in a trailer in a trailer park, the son of a fucked-up white-trash mom who's been shacking up with a just-out-of-high-school guy Rabbit went to school with, for Christ's sake. In other words, Eminem plays Eminem, pre-success, just as he begins to get a little success. It's a Hollywood wash on part of his life story certainly they've cleaned some things up, and used the film for some spin control on his bad-boy image (he befriends a gay co-worker at the factory where he works).
So how hard is it to play yourself, you might be thinking. Not that easy. Most people would not be able to play themselves in a movie. First of all, the camera wouldn't love them. Second, they'd get all self-conscious with the camera crew and director and scads of movie-making folks running around. And even if they could, you wouldn't be interested. Their voice would sound stupid in fact, it would be irritating to listen to them talk on screen. They wouldn't be able to deliver their lines in a believable manner. And it would be immensely boring to watch them for an hour and a half while eating popcorn and sitting in a movie theater.
Eminem, on the other hand, has all that stuff nailed. From the opening scene, in which he's practicing his rapper moves in the bathroom at this very funky hip-hop club, The Shelter, you buy in. You dig watching him on the screen. He's a very likable anti-hero. Kinda like a hip-hop Holden Caulfield, only more working-class.
Not only did Eminem win me over, but the film as a whole is excellent. Good script, good ensemble acting (some of the scenes with Eminem's crew are priceless), good cinematography.... This is not only one of the best smash-hit mainstream movies released in this or any other recent year, but it can hold its own with pretty much anything else that's out there at the moment. (As for past films featuring rock and pop stars, it's way better than Purple Rain, if that means anything. Don't know if it beats out Desperately Seeking Susan though, which I still think is a killer film.)
Now I did pay attention to the music in "8 Mile," which was produced by Eminem. Guess what? It was pretty good. And the key rap that he delivers near the end of the film was funny. He's onstage at The Shelter, engaged in a verbal battle with a hip-hop competitor, and he delivers a rap that just blows the guy off the stage with his skills.
Anyway. So there I am, major Eminem hater, having to admit that I now dig Eminem. This is one of those paradoxes that life is filled with. Like if you're really honest, and you're not just trying to be cool and thus very rigid about what you'll admit you like, even to yourself, then you know that every once in a while (and probably more often than that), something comes along that is either distinctly not cool, or doesn't fit with how you see yourself and yet, still, you like it.
Take "The Osbournes." Do I have better things to do on Sunday nights than watch reruns of "The Osbournes"? Of course. And yet there I am, stretched out on the couch, laughing away as Ozzy tosses a block of wood through a neighbor's window or fends of a bunch of dogs that have set up camp in his mega-Hollywood home. Or puts up with that hippie loser friend of Jack's who keeps moving in. And so I now must admit that, along with liking Eminem, I get a kick out of "The Osbournes."
And you know what, I'm cool with that. In fact, I bet that when I'm lying on my deathbed, just about to leave this earth behind, it won't bother me in the least that I had to fess up to digging Eminem and "The Osbournes." Think about it.