Sound familiar? “8 Mile” is based on Eminem’s own life. The movie centers on Rabbit as he struggles to fulfill his dreams, while things fall apart around him. The key players in his home life are his unemployed trailer-trash mother Stephanie (Kim Basinger), his innocent little sister Lily (Chloe Greenfield) and his mother’s abusive boyfriend Greg (Michael Shannon). Needless to say, he has many issues with them, starting with Stephanie’s utter lack of responsibility. His social crowd consists of his sassy new girl Alex (Brittany Murphy) and his fun-loving friends Future (Mekhi Phifer), Wink (Eugene Byrd) and Cheddar Bob (Evan Jones), among others. They run into trouble, sometimes together and sometimes against each other. There is a plot, but not much of one; mainly, we just see what Rabbit’s life is like.
Of course, the real question here is: how is Eminem? In all honesty, he’s not too bad. The role isn’t a terribly difficult one and Eminem is no Academy Award winner, but he’s convincing enough for the purposes of the movie. Eminem acts the part of the discontented would-be rapper with an easy sincerity that wins compassion from the audience. Eminem manages to display driving anguish and distress with surprising intensity. We understand him, even like him, even when his violent temper reveals itself.
Eminem’s respectable performance is supported by strong talent from the rest of the cast. Basinger provides Stephanie with a validating layer of desperate earnestness. Stephanie is a bad mother, but she is also a mostly well-meaning woman who wants the best for herself and her little daughter. If she comes across as being not on top of things, hey, you wouldn’t be either if you were in her situation. Also notable is Murphy, who plays Rabbit’s girlfriend with irresistible charm and subtle seduction. When he falls for her, so do we. Phifer, Byrd and Jones aren’t amazing, but they do decent jobs. We have no trouble believing that they are who they say they are,and that’s good enough.
“8 Mile,” quite fortunately, stops short of being a social commentary. Though we see how tough Rabbit’s life is, his biggest obstacle is himself and that’s something to which anyone can relate. In the opening scene, Rabbit goes onstage at the Shelter, a hip-hop club, to perform only to freeze up. It’s no one’s fault but his own, and he knows it. He never blames other people for it. Since we can relate, we cheer him on as he fights to rise above his own challenges.
Probably one of the best elements of the movie is, unsurprisingly, the music. The freestyle scenes are among the most enjoyable to watch, simply because the rappers and DJs are good at what they do. The soundtrack is also golden. Songs by Xzibit, Nas and Eminem make for a solid set of hip-hop songs that suit the movie well.
“8 Mile” is a strong film in many ways. But there’s also plenty holding it back. Sometimes, the movie stops making sense, particularly Rabbit’s relationships. Janeane, Rabbit’s ex-girlfriend, has a minor role that serves no function except to give Rabbit one more thing to be angry about. His relationship with Alex is even less logical. They barely know each other, yet we suddenly are presented with an awkward sex scene, which we’re presumably supposed to find steamy. Then they encounter a huge problem that could destroy their relationship. Though we never see them resolve it, both of them have forgotten about it completely by the end.
The lack of conclusion is a major problem with the movie. The ending is somewhat anticlimactic and I found myself wanting more. I knew that if the movie went any further, it would most likely become rather cheesy, but I had really wanted to know what happened to Rabbit and crew. “8 Mile” leaves us just as its characters are starting to solve the problems that had haunted them.
Everything in the movie, from Rabbit’s clothes to the hip-hop club to even the sky is visually consistent. The scenery and characters both look similarly run-down and cold shades of blue-gray are everywhere. Consistency is a good thing-but so is variety. The scenes are so alike that they tend to run into each other; each one is just like the last. The lack of plot doesn’t help. After a while I wanted to say, “I get the point. Rabbit’s life sucks. Next step, please.”
“8 Mile” is as well-made as you could expect Eminem’s first movie to be. Not that this means it’s good. It’s okay. It’s far less satisfying than Eminem’s album, “The Eminem Show,” which was released this summer. But remember: Eminem’s first album, “Infinite,” was a flop. If a multi-platinum rap god can rise out of such humble beginnings, there’s no reason to doubt that a much better movie could be coming out of Eminem.