Not since Kurt Cobain has there been a male recording artist as fetishized as Eminem. Is it the controversy surrounding his music? His dangerous attitude? His checkered past? Or is it just that he's beautiful to look at, and the macho hip-hop crowd won't admit it? Say what you will, there's a reason why more people paid to see 8 Mile during its opening weekend than purchased the rapper's last album The Eminem Show over the last six months – and that was a hugely successful album. And who am I to argue against those wounded eyes behind the hateful lyrics? So I saw 8 Mile.
As has been previously ascertained by other critics, Eminem does a fine job playing a fictionalized version of himself, pre-fame: a poor white kid in Detroit, struggling to stake his claim in the competitive hip-hop scene while dealing with poverty, a wretched mother (played by Kim Basinger, affecting a broad and unjustified Southern accent), and his various enemies. Other than that, it's just another Rocky movie, only with rapping instead of boxing. Though this is actually a credible substitute: these days, the ticket out of the inner city isn't boxing, or poetry, or dancing, or any of the other cliched aspirations seen in Hollywood films. It's hip-hop.
Authenticity aside, the film makes some missteps: Eminem has a girlfriend who is apparently pregnant with his child, but she is quickly forgotten about (it feels like she had a few key scenes that were cut); Em's other love interest (Brittany Murphy) just kind of comes and goes; Basinger is good, but that Southern accent really doesn't jibe with the gritty urban milieu; finally, Em and his black buddies hang out with a token white dude who I see in movies like this all the time: a character so moronic and uncool that you wonder why the rest of the guys even give him the time of day.
I have a feeling that Curtis Hanson – a decent director who stages his film with aplomb and expertly captures the decay of Detroit – was working so hard to get a good performance out of his star that he neglected the story's subtler points. As for Eminem, though his performance is certainly acceptable, ironically it adds little to his own mystique.