Fantastic Fest 2019: Dolemite Is My Name
Growing up in the '80s and '90s, Hollywood still possessed this enchanting aura surrounding its existence—movies were magic, actors were magicians. This was the era of Planet Hollywood, one where we weren’t made immediately aware of an actor’s political affiliation (or subsequent inane Twitter rants). One where Hollywood still shined as this untouchable force. Eddie Murphy blossomed in this era—proving himself a charismatic, entertaining actor and comedian whose iconic roles still remain so to this day.
Dolemite Is My Name serves as Murphy’s long-awaited comeback into today’s Hollywood, and delivers a hilarious, heart-warming tale about making your dreams come true. Penned by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, Dolemite Is My Name acts as a sort of spiritual successor to their earlier movie, Ed Wood. Both are biopics that paint their heroic underdogs in a charming, lovable light, and both feature a few outcasts just trying to get the movie of their dreams made. Paired with Hustle &Flow and Black Snake Moan’s director, Craig Brewer, Dolemite Is My Name is a must-see movie centered around Hollywood, political correctness, and hope.
Dolemite Is My Name follows the life and legend of Rudy Ray Moore and his harrowing journey to making his infamous low-budget blaxpoitation film, Dolemite. The film opens with a doughy, middle-aged Moore against a sleek '70s LA backdrop. He’s recorded some lackluster singles and attempts to find success in the mere five minutes he’s allotted between sets as a stand-up comedian. By day, he works at a local record store, bargaining with the DJ (in a fun performance by Snoop Dogg) to play one of his old records, to no avail. After some inspiration, Moore adopts a new persona, the wise-cracking, pimp-inspired Dolemite, and waltzes back into the nightclub he moonlights at with the renewed confidence of a star. And boy, does he shine. His Dolemite character delivers catchy, X-rated rhyming poems that win over his previously-unimpressed audience. The success of his new character eventually leads Moore into landing record deals as a stand-up comedian. Inspired by the true father of blaxpoitation films, Melvin Van Peebles, Moore then sets his sights on making a movie geared towards just his Afro-American people: a kung fu, blaxpoitation crime-thriller based solely around Dolemite.
The transformation of Moore from a sad, unsuccessful man into a loud-mouthed star is a moving and uplifting journey. We witness Murphy portraying a man with such finesse, one can’t help but wonder about the meta-textual similarities between the character and the man himself. We get to witness an on-screen rebirth; a comeback in both the form of Moore, and Murphy.
After Moore’s success as a comedian, the story propels headfirst into making Dolemite a reality with the help of a fun-loving, supportive group of misfits in great performances by Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Craig Robinson, Mike Epps and Titus Burgess. However, the standout supporting players here are, without a doubt, Wesley Snipes as the affected, “seasoned” director D’Urville Martin, and Keegan-Michael Key as the elitist playwright Jerry Jones. All turn out hilarious, poignant performances that complement Murphy’s deeply moving and enthusiastic one.
A magnetic optimism peppers Dolemite Is My Name—I found myself cheering alongside my fellow movie-goers as Moore overcomes hurdle after hurdle to make his impossible movie. We genuinely sympathize when Moore’s feeling anxiety, or moments of defeat. Yet his hustling fervor is contagious, and unwavering—and ultimately inspiring. Times are bleak; we need a story like this right now.
Dolemite Is My Name is a special little film, one that isn’t too ground-breaking but stands apart nowadays because its message is simple and clear: never give up, never surrender. And sometimes, we need to be reminded that our dreams can come true.