I don't exactly know how accurate "8 mile" is to Eminem's real life. I know that he was born in Missouri, and some how he ended up in the slums of Detroit. But thankfully, "8 Mile" is no autobiography or sugarcoated plot that Hollywood knows all too well. Eminem doesn't show off or glorify himself. And at the same time, he's not asking for pity or the sympathy that he never desired.
The movie begins in 1995. Jimmy Smith Jr. (Eminem) is a middle age man with a dream of getting signed by a rap label. He recently broke up with his possibly pregnant girlfriend, who now owns his car. With no money or means of transportation, Jimmy moves into his mother's (Kim Basinger) trailer home; an environment that will stir up more trouble than any good.
Jimmy lives in a depressing Detroit neighborhood where the skies always appear to be gray. His daughter Lily (Chloe Greenfield) also lives uncomfortably with his mother and her abusive boyfriend. Jimmy works at a stamping plant, where he plans on saving up enough money to be able to record his demo in an expensive studio.
Known as "Rabbit," Jimmy gets his chance to participate in the battles that go down at the 'shelter.' Best friend Future (Mekhi Phifer), is the host of the battles, where two rappers go head-to-head in a solo rap-jam for 45 seconds. The crowd decides the winner.
The battles are the highlight of the film. In poetic fashion, each rapper takes the insult dealt by his opponent, and formulates a rhyme to fire back as his rebuttal. You don't have to like rap, or even understand what they are saying to enjoy it. The lyrics are fast, upbeat and exciting.
"8 Mile" is darker than what I had anticipated. "Rabbit" never has anything to celebrate or be happy about. His friends are lost in an imaginary world where they talk about cars and money. But in reality, they all live in their mothers' trailer, just like Jimmy.
Two groups dominate the area neighborhoods. Not gangs or cults, but rap groups. The antagonists are the members of the "Free World." They own all of the titles at the shelter, and claim to be the best rappers. Jimmy is part of the 313, the likable rappers. You've got a philosopher, a white guy who is Jimmy's biggest fan, and Future himself.
The hip-hoppers in "8 Mile" aren't thugs; they're childish. One night, Jimmy and the 313 shoot a paintball gun at a cop car for laughs. You never see this behavior portrayed in other ghetto style movies. Everyone except Jimmy smokes pot (I'm guessing for reputation reasons) but they act like high school kids who do it because it's forbidden.
While "8 Mile" is serious, it is nothing like the Boyz in the Hood genre or the recently released, and unknown Paid in Full; which is by far Mekhi Phifer's best movie, hands down. One of the more memorable scenes is when the 313 and the Free World encounter each other for the first time on the streets. They break out into a fistfight in a test to determine who is the toughest. Then, one of Jimmy's crew members pulls out a handgun. When Jimmy notices, he screams, "What is that thing for?!" Everyone stops fighting to the sight of a gun, something you don't see in 'hood' movies.
The story behind "8 Mile" is nothing greater than typical. Jimmy must find his talent, but not before failing miserably; then getting the drive to eventually redeem himself. It's not clear why Jimmy is so intimidated in the beginning, but it is understandable when you see what he lives with, and what he lives for. He never knows when he'll be fired from his job, and never knows who he can trust. One of his friends promises him the chance to perform before an executive, and also promises a girl to get a shot at a modeling contract. This guy might have too many hookups for Jimmy to take the offer seriously. His credibility is always in question, especially when you see him jump sides between the 313 and Free World.
The movie does stay clear of cliches, however. There is a romance; a girl (Brittany Murphy) from out of the woodwork emerges to provide more depth in Jimmy's life, but even that story isn't as neat and tight as you'd expect; or want. The screenplay is flawless, as the dialogue feels real; not memorized off a script.
Eminem's acting is good during some parts and bad during others. In the one-liners, such as, "At least I got a job," he tries too hard and isn't natural enough. Yet during emotional breakdowns and during confrontations with his mother, he is brilliant. It's still too early to determine what potential Eminem has as an actor. After all, who couldn't re-enact his/her own life story? He is always angry and serious, the same way he is in his music videos. Roger Ebert said that Eminem can probably do other roles in the future as a rapper, but it will never be as good. It will never be as authentic.
Jimmy's character is good. He loves his sister despite having to leave her in the nightmarish surroundings of the claustrophobic trailer home. The relationship between Jimmy and his mother is always shaky. They get along; sometimes. The problem is that they can't see where the other one is coming from.
Kim Basinger shines as a clueless mother with the best intentions. She gives Jimmy a car for his birthday that doesn't work, and offers little support for his musical ambitions. She tries to provide, but is not a good influence for Jimmy's sister. She is vulgar and is always getting into fights with Jimmy and her boyfriend. I know people who say they were disappointed in Basinger's performance. And I think it's because people were confused about her character. She's a drunk, but not a bumbling idiot. She could have been a mess in rags, but that's being stereotypical. She tries to be what a caring mother is, but she is too confused.
The tone of "8 Mile" is gritty at its best. The only humor in this movie comes at the expense at those getting verbally abused in the 'battle' storm. Director Curtis Hanson kept it gloomy, perfectly fitting Eminem's soundtrack title, "Loose Yourself." The ending doesn't answer all of our questions; but if you follow the message of the movie, there is no need to know them.