The phrase “feel-good movie of the year” gets thrown around ad nauseum in trailers and reviews. That title might be a little lofty for Dolemite Is My Name, but there’s no denying it falls under the first half of that quote.
Based on a true story, Eddie Murphy plays struggling artist Rudy Ray Moore, whose dreams of becoming a star can’t seem to take off. After little success in music and comedy, a fortuitous turn of events inspires him to create a character called Dolemite – a vulgar, crass and hilarious folk-hero type, who tells outrageous rhyming tales ranging from his sexual prowess, to jungle animals, to various superhuman deeds.
Moore’s success leads him to the film industry where he decides to make a movie about the character of Dolemite, despite having no filmmaking experience or knowledge whatsoever.
While the plot may sound like a generic “struggling artist finds overnight success” story, the key difference is that Moore’s tale is much smaller scale and thus, more tangible throughout. Moore never loses the humility and passion for his work, and his success visibly makes him a happy and fulfilled individual that inspires those around him.
Murphy’s ability to switch between the good-natured, enthusiastic Moore and braggadocious, outrageous Dolemite is impressive, and both personas yield moments of comedic gold. Indeed, the star studded cast all deliver, most notably Wesley Snipes as the over the-top and hilarious director. The low-budget, self-made process of Moore’s film is charming, humorous and inspiring, with scenes of their creative filmmaking techniques being some of the most memorable in the film.
Dolemite is an incredibly influential character of the blaxploitation genre – a genre borne of African-American audiences lacking representation in mainstream films. This sentiment is echoed when Moore and his friends visit the cinema to see a critically acclaimed comedy. They witness a major cultural divide as they find themselves unentertained viewing a white actor-only film, surrounded by a laughing, predominantly white audience. The scene, and indeed, the entire film, effectively convey the importance of Dolemite for blaxploitation fans and neophytes alike that it honours in a poignant final scene.
With regards to its technical aspects, the film is well shot, directed, written, and is impeccably edited. The standout feature here, though, are the performances, which elevate the film significantly. Overall, Dolemite Is My Name is an all-round good time and enjoyable look at a less represented, but important aspect of filmmaking culture and history.
Image: Image: David Shankbone via Flickr