Dolemite Is My Name

Dolemite Is My Name ★★★½

straddles the line between what makes a biopic good (using the story of someone to tell the story of something else) and what makes a biopic bad (assuming that a single person's achievement is noteworthy and therefore fascinating in and of itself). hollywood in general seems to think that the process of making movies is just so inherently entrancing that all you need is some guys standing around a camera and maybe some screaming thrown in and presto! your audience is just gonna be on their knees.

dolemite has a leg up on the competition already (cough mank cough) since it's about low-budget film-making: you're not going to see someone running out of a film-set with fake entrails spilling out of their guts or a group of la film students huddling in a derelict hotel nearly killing themselves to get electricity on the set of the godfather. there's inherent humor and charm in seeing a group of people long on passion and short on knowledge.

there's also dolemite's subject- the godfather of rap, rudy ray moore. here's a character never given his due by history who rose to prominence in the comedy world purely through his own sweat and tears. here's this rich history of blaxploitation films and black cinema, usually left out of gushing retrospectives on the 70s, despite its importance. there's a lot to mine here. i'm not sure any of it is fully given it's due.

don't get me wrong- the movie is charming and funny and wonderfully acted. but it's also not really about anything besides being a very nice story of following your dreams and not hearing no for an answer. that's not a particularly novel message and it feels particularly disappointing considering how this movie is focusing on such a novel person.

the best biopics mine the general out of the specific: by focusing on one person's life to the degree they do, they manage to be about all of our lives. that only happens when they decide that the narrative isn't just going to hook on "isn't this famous person neat" and is instead going to have an arc and themes and plots and stuff. dolemite gets closer than most of its contemporaries. it's just not quite there yet.

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