REVIEW: Dolemite Is My Name (2019)

Release Poster – Netflix

The following is a review of Dolemite Is My Name — Directed by Craig Brewer.

In 2006, Eddie Murphy, one of the greatest American comedians of all-time, was about to have his big moment in the spotlight as an actor. His performance in Dreamgirls given him industry recognition and critical praise. He had now finally won a Golden Globe and, realistically, he had set his sights on the golden statuette handed out by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Eventually, though he was nominated, he lost the award to Alan Arkin. Back then, it was speculated that his appearance and performance in the critically panned Norbit was to blame for him having missed out on his Oscar. It’s ironic, really, that perhaps comedy had cost Eddie Murphy the most coveted award in cinema. With that having been said, comedy can take him back to Academy Awards. Because Dolemite Is My Name is a hoot and Eddie Murphy genuinely gives an awards-worthy performance in it.

Craig Brewer’s Dolemite Is My Name is a biographical picture about the life and experiences of Rudy Ray Moore (played by Eddie Murphy), an African-American comedian, musician, and actor, during the 1970s. Though the film does detail Rudy Ray Moore’s rise in the comedy and music industry as a crude comedian, Dolemite Is My Name is chiefly about Moore’s attempts to make, star in, and self-finance a blaxploitation film titled Dolemite. When nobody wanted to bet on him, Moore risked it all, time and time again, in an effort to succeed as the crude crowdpleaser that he knew he could be.

From writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (Ed Wood), Dolemite Is My Name is a fairly straightforward but extremely amusing and surprisingly moving biopic that features several memorable performances including the exceptional one given by Eddie Murphy. This film will probably remind audiences of James Franco’s The Disaster Artist from 2017, which is itself a biopic about an eccentric actor making a film that he was told absolutely no one would want to see. Both Dolemite and Tommy Wiseau’s The Room — which is the film at the center of The Disaster Artist — became unlikely audience-favorites even though they were by no means celebrated by critics.

But that may be exactly where the similarities end. For one, I don’t think the central performance in Dolemite Is My Name is just an imitation, which Franco’s performance in The Disaster Artist definitely felt like. Though it does have a straightforward narrative, all of the main characters are likable in Dolemite Is My Name. Most importantly, I think that, unlike with The Disaster Artist, Dolemite Is My Name works wonderfully even when you have no prior knowledge of the main character or the film that the plot is built around. I’ve watched people unaware of The Room be confused by The Disaster Artist. I knew nothing about Rudy Ray Moore or Dolemite, but I think all of the humor worked for me. Unlike with The Disaster Artist, Dolemite Is My Name is not reliant on inside jokes. Also, in my mind, Dolemite Is My Name is, simply, a far superior film, even though, I must say, I did enjoy The Disaster Artist when I first saw it.

Dolemite Is My Name is a life-affirming comedic biopic with a stellar cast. Eddie Murphy’s return to the screen is incredibly entertaining, and his performance here may be the best that he has ever given. Although I had some issues with his character — who thinks Dolemite is beneath him — Wesley Snipes is a scene-stealer. I also thought Tituss Burgess was a highlight in this movie. Finally, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, a relatively unknown actress, gives a potentially star-making performance as Lady Reed. On top of this, there are a couple of fun cameos here and there.

There are so many things I love about this film. I love how magical it felt in the scene when the lights turned on at Hotel Dunbar, La Vie En Rose started to play, and the cast and crew lit up and celebrated. I loved Ruth E. Carter’s confident and colorful costumes. I think it’s just such a joyful film that a lot of us may need right now. That said, I was surprised to see that no one in the film ever mentioned to Rudy Ray Moore that he had basically appropriated the idea for his star-making role from a homeless man. We see Moore exchanging alcohol and money for the rhyming style, the jokes, and the character, but I don’t recall anyone ever asking him about it. Also, in reality, Dolemite Is My Name isn’t uniquely insightful, and it doesn’t actually try to explore several interesting ideas that are referenced in the film. Though its characters are likable, they aren’t particularly deep.

I think this is a crowd-pleasing and compelling but conventional tribute to an influential artist, actor, and comedian who I knew very little about beforehand. I was grinning from ear to ear throughout this film, and, at one point, it even made me misty-eyed. I don’t think I’ve ever had this much fun with a Netflix film. Craig Brewer’s Dolemite Is My Name is the feel-good movie of the year.

8.5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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