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Movie Review: 8 Mile

Is there a zeitgeist in the air? Or a peculiar form of artsy-fartsy in-breeding swirling about?
First off, for his brilliant FAR FROM HEAVEN, director Todd Haynes has aped the style of ’50s melodrama king Douglas Sirk, down to the anachronistic dialogue, lush cinematography and pristine sets and costumes.

Released the same week as FAR FROM HEAVEN, was the Eminem-starring 8 MILE, which includes among other things a scene of Kim Basinger painting her toenails and watching an apropos movie on TV: IMITATION OF LIFE, Sirk’s 1959 look at racial tension in America.

While Eminem was the most talked about aspect of 8 MILE, the film was directed by — and the sole reason I wanted to see the movie at all — Curtis Hanson, who previously directed the wickedly amusing WONDER BOYS, which featured Michael Douglas’s best performance in years.

Hanson, however, more recently popped up as an actor in a bit part in the genius ADAPTATION, appearing as Meryl Streep’s husband for a few scenes.

These direct and oblique connections, particularly because of FAR FROM HEAVEN’s throwback style, have got me thinking about the case for melodrama. Specifically, is 8 MILE a modern form of Sirk’s trademark genre?

The best thing about FAR FROM HEAVEN is that it is played completely straight. It’s not a parody, or even a tribute, but a perfect recreation of a filmmaking style that is now viewed, at worst, as ridiculous. For example, although the dialogue isn’t played for laughs, it’s hard not to snicker when, in a moment of surprise and anger, Julianne Moore exclaims, “Jiminy!”

8 MILE on the other hand is a thoroughly modern movie, but it’s not hard to imagine in 45 years or so how outmoded it’s prominently featured chummy greeting “Yo, Dog!” will appear. Actually, it’s practically outmoded now. While I thoroughly enjoyed 8 MILE — especially impressed with a screenplay structure that doesn’t allow Eminem to rap for at least a good half-hour so we can see if he can really act or not (he can) — two things about it made me want to scream. One was, as I noted before, the constant “Dog” references. Maybe it was accurate dialogue, but thoroughly distracting after a point nonetheless.

The other maddening feature of 8 MILE is: What the hell is up with Mekhi Phifer’s teeth!!

Along with Curtis Hanson’s previous two efforts, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL and WONDER BOYS, he is a director able to fully immerse himself in whatever world he’s working in, whether it’s ’50s era Los Angeles or ’90s era Detroit, and capture a consistent vision of it. However, I take issue that a poor street hustler from a miserable ghetto is going to have a flawless, glowing white smile. Phifer’s teeth are so impossibly perfect, they radiate like little suns in an otherwise indomitably gray movie. Get that dog some “ugly caps” next time.

Those teeth are also distracting me from my original thesis: That I think 8 MILE is our modern melodrama even though we think we’ve matured way past such a naïve form of filmmaking.

Although 8 MILE is less a Sirk descendant than it is one of ROCKY’s, the melodramatic elements are still there. Jane Wyman’s silk chiffon dresses may be replaced by Brittany Murphy’s leather miniskirts and fishnets and icon of masculinity Rock Hudson has been transformed into pale, skinny rapper Eminem, but both couple’s romantic entanglements in an unforgiving world operate totally on the same sphere, even if in different eras.