Netflix’s newest original film dives nose-deep into the real life story of Rudy Ray Moore, commonly known as the iconic “Dolemite”, chronicling the journey he paved for himself to see his name in lights. It is a showcase of the 70s black community scene, with Moore in the thick of it and, dare I say, forming it himself. As funny as it is endearing, Dolemite Is My Name is a biopic to remember and a much-awaited comeback for the brilliant Eddie Murphy.
I’ve always had my reservations about reviewing true-to-life biopics. There is always a fear of crossing the line between critiquing the story instead of how it was told, especially if it involves a context and a culture not of my own nor anything remotely like it. Quite frankly, I had no background knowledge whatsoever on Rudy Ray Moore, no bells rung when I heard “Dolemite” (you get the picture), but I find that that was the best part of my experience. To discover and experience the dynamite that was Rudy Ray Moore for the first time through this film was perhaps the perfect way to introduce me to the sub-genre he fathered and, man, have I been missing out.
Not once did the storytelling alienate the audience – it was just so dang fun, digestible, and easily immersive, and watching Eddie Murphy, a figure present in the years I’ve grown up, completely kill the part while landing all the jokes (in all their vulgar glory) sends me to a place of familiarity. The watching experience sends energy as high as Moore’s down your spine, tickling your funny bone in ways you least expect even if it utilizes a more standard linear format which is basically used to get the job done and cleanly.
The performances of the brilliant ensemble reeled in audiences further. There was dynamism in their adaptation of the times and an undeniable chemistry that elevated the script immensely. One bonus was they all were extremely (and I cannot stress this enough) funny without trying too hard, landing all the lines at every sweet punchline. Of course, Murphy was at the forefront of the brilliance. In cinema, to look like the character is one thing, but to succeed in capturing its essence is another and, ultimately, what makes the difference. I stand by my opinion that he indeed gave justice to the man he portrayed, while also making it about his own comeback. Finally, both costume design and soundtrack were the ingredients that made the transportation to the times near perfect.
While it was all enjoyable to watch, it was the kind of man that Rudy Ray Moore was that gave this film its powerful reason to exist, and what ultimately will stay with the audiences after the two hours are over. Moore, to his pal Jimmy, poses the question, “How’d my life get so damn small?” He was destined for greater things and he knew that. Moving out of his hometown and away from a paternal abusive relationship, Moore wanted to make a name for himself, and he did everything he could to get his big break. It was his persistence that got his foot in the door, but it was the recognition of the essence of getting one’s hands dirty that fostered his rise to stardom. It was being a beacon of what his audience wanted, and being the beam of fearlessness his co-workers needed. Not only did people like him, they resonated with him: his art, his jokes, his being; is that not, then, the real kind of success?
Overall, Dolemite Is My Name succeeded in capturing Rudy Ray Moore in all the good, the bad, and the ugly he had to go through while keeping the beacon of his legacy alive for a new generation such as myself to enjoy. By combining all elements of cinema in its favor, this true-to-life, energetic, masterfully told story gave everything of the man and the era justice and – perhaps most importantly – will hopefully pique the discourse on what it truly means to be successful, and what exactly that entails.
P.S. (and I just got to get this off my chest) if this is the way Netflix makes up for cancelling The Get Down, then I forgive them now.