Dolemite Is My Name ★★★★

“Dolemite is my name and fuckin' up muthafuckas is my game.”

To say that Hollywood has always had a serious issue with representing minorities (specially when it comes to black people) would be the mother of all euphemisms. From the popular uses of the infamous blackface during the 1910’s, to other, more subdued acts of on-screen discrimination, relegating black actors to the background, with their rarely spoken lines of dialogue consisting mostly of “yes, sirs”, “no, ma’ms” and relatives.

For decades, America’s black community eagerly awaited some sort of retaliation that could echo the frustration in their voices. Enter the seventies, and the Blaxploitation movement is born. Dirty and trash-filled suburbia backdrop, overblown and cartoonish violence, explicit sex scenes, foul and crude language, low budgets, zero fucks, total madness: the main ingredients of a type of cinema that, first of all, sought to put black people in roles and places of power normally reserved for the usual, white privileged elite. One of the main standard-bearers of this movement was Rudy Ray Moore.

Dolemite Is My Name’s mission is to show us how Rudy clung and climbed the high walls of fame and success, during a time where the entertainment industry was allergic to the kind of ideas that were popular at the time with the black community, ideas that always leaned on crude sense of humor that permeated the streets of LA at the time. From comedian, to musician, to bonafide movie star, Craig Brewer takes us along through Ruby’s journey in life with an enthusiasm that’s absolutely infectious, with a reborn-from-embers Eddie Murphy commanding every frame of the screen, nailing what is probably the greatest performance he’s ever given us. With a pitch-perfect control of body and vocal language, Murphy fills the screen with equal parts theatrical bravado and frustrated melancholy. The rest of the cast also manages to be equally memorable, with an atypical Wesley Snipes, who offers a performance that completely subverts his usual badass aura, being worthy of special commendation.

If I have to point out any flaw in the film, it’s in how the first act of the film is written and structured. Even if being immediately charismatic, the first half-hour of the film is constrained by the usual trappings biopics of the stereotypical biopic, with more than a few scenes reeking of “been there, done that”. There’s even a scene of exposition where the protagonist verbally lists all of the problems he has in his life, the only moment in the film that sadly had me rolling my eyes.

But when the good stuff does arrive, from there on, the film picks up a ton of steam that never quite lets up. It even manages to bring forth a sort of meta-commentary on its own stance as a modern slice of blaxploitation in spirit and execution. This conjoined with the electrifying soundtrack, stylish editing and top-notch production design, elevate Dolemite Is My Name well above the usual, nostalgic biopic venture, with a contagious mix of sincerity, heart and enthusiasm culminating in what may just be the feelgood movie of the year.

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