Will the real scene stealer please stand up?

Martha Finkley

As the beats die at the end of Eminem’s single “Lose Yourself,” from the “8 Mile” soundtrack, we hear the real Slim Shady himself murmur, “You can do anything you set your mind to, man.” Well, Em apparently decided to put his mind to pleasantly surprising filmgoers and critics everywhere.

The self-proclaimed “most hated on out of all those who say they get hated on” stars in director Curtis Hanson’s “8 Mile” as Jimmy Smith Jr., a white rapper from the slums of Detroit who’s trying to make it big in the music industry. Sound familiar? The year is 1995. Yeah, sounds about right for an explosion onto radio and an ongoing reign on “Total Request Live” that started in ’99.

Clearly, anyone who knows anything about the career of Marshall Mathers, a.k.a. Eminem, will immediately see the parallels between Em’s life and Jimmy’s. But dismissing “8 Mile” as an autobiographical vehicle for its lead is a mistake. As unbelievable as it may sound, Eminem is not playing himself. He’s playing Jimmy, a.k.a. Rabbit.

The plot of “8 Mile” is, unfortunately, highly predictable. If you’ve heard the aforementioned single, “Lose Yourself,” you’ve pretty much heard the plot and moral of the story condensed into a catchy four-minute hip hop tune. The film opens, as the song does, in the Shelter, the arena for rap battles in Detroit’s very own wrong-side-of-the-tracks district known as 8 Mile. Jimmy is preparing to head off to war himself: “His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy; there’s vomit on his sweater already, mom’s spaghetti.”

“He opens his mouth, but the words won’t come out.” Rabbit chokes. This failure, and subsequent trouble with rapper enemies, is only the outermost layer of the misery that is Jimmy’s life. He’s split from his supposedly pregnant girlfriend and left his car to her, so he’s forced to move back in with his mom (Kim Basinger). Mom has been shacking up with Greg (Michael Shannon), a former classmate of Jimmy’s, with dreams of her and daughter Lilly living off of a forthcoming accident settlement check. Jimmy and Greg don’t really get along, but Greg’s love of Lynyrd Skynyrd provides for a laugh-out-loud mock rap between Jimmy and his buddy, Future (Mekhi Phifer). In the end, we all know that Jimmy will rise above this and face the music that you’ve got to “lose yourself in the music, the moment” because “this opportunity comes once in lifetime, yo.”

Tabloid newspaper and MTV aficionados will make the obvious comparison between Em’s mother, Debbie, and Jimmy’s mother and between Em’s daughter Hailie and Jimmy’s little sister Lilly. But what one cannot lose sight of is that even if he does sing about them, Eminem’s musical success and career isn’t about them. It’s about him. He really is a one-man show.

And “8 Mile” isn’t about these supporting, and very underdeveloped, characters either. It’s about Rabbit. Thankfully, this makes it a lot easier to just dismiss some unmemorable performances. Kim Basinger is merely playing a caricature of a trailer park mom. Brittany Murphy is believable as the skanky hopeful-model Alex, Rabbit’s new love interest, but we just don’t care about her. Mekhi Phifer, as Rabbit’s emcee buddy, Future, is a little too rap-godfather-esque and seems to try too hard to be inspirational and semi-prophetic, but that’s more the fault of the script.

What is impossible to forget, however, is Eminem’s performance as Jimmy Smith Jr. Granted, the role was tailor-made for Em, but it never seems like he is just playing himself. From the first shot of Jimmy in the bathroom at the Shelter before his first rap battle to the last shot of him leaving the Shelter after a final rap battle, “8 Mile” is the story of Jimmy’s possible ascent to success, not Eminem’s. We care about Jimmy, not about Eminem.

In “8 Mile,” Eminem shows some quality acting skills. Whether he can apply them to other roles remains to be seen — and maybe never will be. Eminem has an undeniable screen presence, though. Here, he looks nothing like the wife-beater-wearing badass from the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards or the goofy rap superhero from his video for “Without Me.” Here, he infuses Jimmy with a seemingly perfect and convincing combination of wide-eyed earnestness, determination, sensitivity and toughness.

Maybe it shouldn’t be so surprising that Eminem can act. After all, he’s usually some different bastardization of himself in each of his music videos. But when was the last time Eminem looked scared on MTV? He looks genuinely fearful, but not overly so, the first time we see him on screen. Maybe Rabbit had good reason to be nervous, but if Em was scared about his big screen debut, he need not admit it, because he saved a formulaic rags-to-anticipated-riches story from itself. nyou

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Will the real scene stealer please stand up?

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Eminem don’t got no time to play around — and it shows with solid acting debut. By martha finkley

Communication senior Martha Finkley is an nyou writer. She can be reached at [email protected]