Filmmakers creating a biopic generally face two choices: do you write an accurate film or an entertaining one? Dolemite Is My Name is most certainly the latter (although some may be surprised to learn that itis mostly also the former). An outstanding performance by Eddie Murphy as blaxploitation star Rudy Ray Moore elevates what would otherwise be a somewhat predictable comedy into a fantastically entertaining account of Moore’s life. When washed-up singer and comedian Moore learns about the character of Dolemite, a foul-mouthed, big-headed pimp, he begins to perform as Dolemite on stage before breaking onto the big screen as part of a shoestring-budgeted movie adaptation.
Dolemite Is My Name’s greatest asset is its cast. Murphy delivers easily his strongest performance of the decade; his portrayal of Moore is immediately likeable and wins the audience over straight away as he desperately tries to convince a record store DJ (a suprising cameo) to play his own songs. However, he also allows room for others to show their talent – especially Wesley Snipes as director D’Urville Martin, who has easily the funniest scenes in the film, and absolutely sells his part as a jaded professional struggling to deal with the amateurish production of Dolemite, as well as being a perfect contrast to the optimistic and idealistic Moore. Murphy also has wonderful chemistry with Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Lady Reed, with the two sharing several heartwarming scenes together as Moore lifts Lady Reed out of an anxious slump into becoming his comedic partner.
The impeccable acting is also enough to draw attention away from the cinematography, which is sadly quite bland in contrast to the larger-than-life Moore. Considering the almost cartoonish events of the film, it would possibly have been fitting to have a less naturalistic feel to match; instead, scenes are broadly quite flat and uninteresting. You could say this is to the film’s benefit rather than its detriment, as it allows more focus to be placed on Murphy and the surrounding cast, however, it may have been a missed opportunity not to lean further into the ridiculousness of Moore’s story.
Thematically the film is rather shallow, with some heavy-handed allusions to the benefits of representation in cinema in the final act and a couple of references to racism in the industry as well. However, they aren’t developed beyond their initial mentions. As with similar biopics though, the focus is more on Moore himself rather than a greater theme, and it could also be argued that the lack of specific focus is even emblematic of the style that Moore employed when making his films, especially in relation to him allowing the audience to see whatever he wanted them to see, with no regard for any conventions.
One need not be familiar with Moore’s work to enjoy Dolemite Is My Name (although there are occasional references for those who are) – it stands on its own as an upbeat comedy that also celebrates the start of Moore’s career.