To talk about DOLEMITE IS MY NAME, I have to first talk about ED WOOD.
ED WOOD is a film directed by Tim Burton from 1994. It was written by Larry Karaszewski, Scott Alexander, the duo who also wrote DOLEMITE IS MY NAME. It tells of a period in the life of not just Ed Wood, but of anyone trying to make something out there, where you’re just at the cusp of something – be it greatness or utter failure – and it’s so close that you can just taste it. It’s one of the most beautiful, honest, and endearing piece of filmmaking about the act of filmmaking that I’ve ever seen. I saw it for the first time when I was seven years old, and I knew then and there I wanted to make films. It took another twenty or so years to realize that it wasn’t the act of filmmaking itself that enticed me, though it helped, but the fact that everyone involved was doing something they love with other people they loved in turn.
The reason I mention ED WOOD is because DOLEMITE IS MY NAME touched me in the same way as that film did over two decades ago. It is a beautiful love-letter to the act of making something for yourself, and a triumph of a film that celebrates what belief in yourself and the love and support of others can create. It’s the kind of film that makes me want to climb on a rooftop and shout superlatives about for hours on end. This movie is a gem, and everyone should see it.
Telling the true story of American comedian, musician, singer, film actor, and film producer Rudy Ray Moore, DOLEMITE IS MY NAME is a biopic only in the loosest sense of the word. It, like ED WOOD, is a glimpse into a moment of a turning point in a life already fast progressing towards its middle. We don’t follow Moore’s childhood, because it doesn’t matter, and his future has already been told. Instead we get to see that defining beginning of his rebirth, when he discovers the character of Dolemite, and how that incandescent desire for more paves the way for a revolution on screen. It showcases the kind of absurd gate-keeping that emphasizes artificially created conformity over anything out of the ordinary, and why breaking those kind of power structures matters now more than ever.
DOLEMITE IS MY NAME is Eddie Murphy at his finest in long time. He has always been a talent, that’s never gone anywhere, but it has laid dormant, waiting for Dolemite to let loose that towering presence that enraptured the world. He is on screen in every single scene of the film, and is nothing short of magnetic throughout. There is a joy in watching Murphy hustle his way through a crowd, and an even greater one in seeing him recreate the iconic blaxploitation cinema moments with wide-eyed enthusiasm over the sheer insanity of filmmaking itself. Dolemite could have, in lesser hands and a lesser script, turned into the archetype that he portrayed on screen. Instead here is a touching, vulnerable, endlessly charismatic man driven by the need to connect and be loved by any means necessary. In one of the great scenes of the film Moore encounters a young fan who is working hard to not just live up to their dream, but to become even better than their idol. Watching Murphy take in the realization of what that connection means to him is a heartwarming reminder why anyone creates anything for others to enjoy.
He’s backed up by a winning cast of actors you don’t get to see on screen enough. Wesley Snipes delivers one of the funniest performances of his career, and it’s one of those stark reminders once again that there is a reason he was a major global star in his prime. Da’Vine Joy Randolph is a treasure in her part, easily running away with the film in a soulful monologue that encapsulates the importance of the work that’s being done. Keegan Michael-Key, Titus Burgess, Mike Epps, and Craig Robinson round up the leading ensemble, and their shared moments together are a joy.
This is the kind of film that comes along and reminds us just why we love not just films to begin with, but why they matter to us so much as a society. They’re a communal event; shared modern folklore; a way to escape ourselves and use the fantasy of moving image to imagine what we could become. DOLEMITE IS MY NAME celebrates the fact that we are all striving for a connection, and sometimes we get that from a flickering light in a dark room. It’s the kind of film that reminds us why that connection is best experienced together, and why the support of one another in these endeavors can create a better world.
The film is available globally by Netflix and should be your first thing you watch this evening. After that, I encourage you to invite friends over and watch it again.