BY TRACY CONN
Eminem can act. Granted, the rapper’s role as Jimmy in 8 Mile is substantially based on his own life. But even so, Eminem shows sides of himself as Jimmy that fans of his often-angry rap music have not yet seen.
8 Mile takes place in Detroit, Michigan (Eminem’s home town), and is named after 8 Mile Road, a highway that divides a predominantly black neighborhood from a predominantly white one. Jimmy Smith Jr. has a dream of becoming a well-known rapper, but he faces even more obstacles than the average would-be rapper. The black community is skeptical that a white boy can rap, especially after Jimmy chokes when given an opportunity to perform early in the movie (this scene being the inspiration for the triumphal “Lose Yourself” song from the soundtrack). Although he seems to be one of the few characters in the movie who is employed, Jimmy doesn’t have enough money to move out of his mother’s trailer, where she lives with a man Jimmy went to high school with. Jimmy also worries about his little sister Lily’s upbringing, and the violence to which she is exposed.
The film’s conclusion is completely predictable, especially since every viewer knows that Eminem does, of course, have skills, and that he probably wouldn’t be in this movie if he weren’t going to demonstrate them. However, most viewers are probably at least unsure about, if not doubtful of, Eminem’s acting ability. Those people will be pleasantly surprised that the Oscar buzz isn’t all hype.
8 Mile can be a bit myopic: There is no substantial independent development of any character other than Jimmy, with the other characters mostly serving as props to service the exposition of Jimmy’s personality. Jimmy can be angry with his mother (expertly played by Kim Basinger), protective of his little sister, supportive of a friend who worships him and flirty with Brittany Murphy’s character, Alex.
The scenes involving the interaction between Jimmy and his sister Lily are the most touching in the movie. Despite the many forces pulling Jimmy in different directions, including his friends, his job, his music, and his motivation to move out of his mother’s trailer, Jimmy does his best to protect his sister from the violence that occurs in her home and in the community. Although he is sometimes ineffectual in this protection since he starts many fights himself, he is consistently more concerned about Lily’s upbringing than Lily and Jimmy’s mother, played by Kim Basinger.
Also moving were the relationships between Jimmy and his circle of friends, collectively known as Three One Third, after the area code for Detroit. Jimmy, most often called Rabbit by the group, often seemed to provide a voice of reason or at least motivation to his friends. The friends are fiercely loyal, especially in their on- and off-stage struggles against their rivals, Leaders of the Free World.
Throughout the movie, there are several rap battles, emceed by Future (Mekhi Phifer), in which members of Free World compete against Jimmy. Eminem fans will definitely enjoy these scenes, and the rapper’s wit and intelligence may just draw in a few new fans. Xzibit and Proof also make cameos in some of the battle scenes.
The one definite problem with the movie is Brittany Murphy’s character, Alex. Alex becomes Jimmy’s love interest after they see each other at Jimmy’s job, and then at a party later that night. Not only does Murphy fail to bring anything unique to the role, but her character is completely inconsistent as well. The viewer feels that she clearly understands Alex’s motivations and feelings, only to then find Alex acting completely contrary to her stated goals for no understandable reason. This aspect of the movie was particularly frustrating in that there is no particular reason why Alex’s character needed this added complexity.
In the end, the message of 8 Mile (Take risks! Follow your dreams!), like Rocky and other tales before it, was cheesy and predictable. But who really wants to see this movie for its message? Fans of Eminem will enjoy seeing Eminem’s intensity applied to a new medium. Eminem will almost certainly gain some new fans, at least of his mic skill, if not his acting ability and personality.