Craig Brewer’s Dolemite Is My Name is a loving biopic of Rudy Ray Moore, the comic and Blaxploitation star often deemed “the Godfather of Rap.”
When we meet Moore, he’s a failed musician working at a record store, trying to convince the resident radio DJ (Snoop Dogg) to add his songs to the rotation. He seems to have self-produced them some years prior, and the themes are a tad dated. (“Buggy Ride?” Snoop says derisively, rejecting one of Moore’s more successful singles).
With his music career not looking promising, the entrepreneurial Moore reinvents himself as a comedian, whipping up a set of raunchy rhyming stories inspired by the jokes of old homeless dudes. After his risqué records make him something of a cult favourite, he decides to take his act to the big screen. Against pretty much everyone’s best advice, he throws everything into the production of Dolemite, a wild B-movie starring his comic persona.
Dolemite Is My Name has been compared to 2017’s The Disaster Artist, which chronicled the production of Tommy Wiseau’s legendarily terrible movie The Room – although Dolemite is more heartfelt (and more genuinely uplifting) than that film*. While The Room’s notoriety gave it a second life as a so-bad-it’s-good midnight movie; Moore’s film was a genuine hit upon release. And where the mysteriously wealthy Wiseau seemed to have unlimited funds at his disposal, Moore had to be thriftier, taking a job as a caretaker in exchange for permission to film in a dilapidated hotel.
The starkest difference, though, is that unlike The Disaster Artist, Dolemite is My Name doesn’t turn its hero into a joke. This is the story of someone who bet on himself and won.
Dolemite is appealingly frank about the vulnerabilities of its hero, who’s spurred on as much by his dreams of fame and fortune as by the memory of his undermining father. A string of rejections leaves him with body image issues, and he dreads filming a sex scene; “I ain’t no Billy Dee Williams,” he laments. It’s his co-star and protege, fellow comedian Lady Reed, who saves the day by convincing him to play the scene for laughs.
The resulting sequence, which sees Dolemite’s earth-rattling lovemaking literally destroy a bedroom, is a hit with everybody except the screenwriter (Keegan-Michael Key), who was crafting gritty stage plays about addiction before being recruited by Moore. “I wrote a tender, realistic love scene!” he protests.
Dolemite Is My Name boasts a comedically talented cast (including Craig Robinson, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, and Chris Rock, as well as Wesley Snipes as a pretentious director and Bob Odenkirk as a ruthlessly practical film producer), who benefit from a sharp script by biopic veterans Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski.
Eddie Murphy (for whom Dolemite seems to have been a passion project) really shines in the role of this braggadocios dreamer who risks everything and succeeds against all odds, building up his community in the process.
Dolemite Is My Name is the best comedy of the year, and one that may inspire you to make your own movie.
Title: Dolemite Is My Name
Director: Craig Brewer
Screenwriters: Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski
*Don’t get me wrong, I like Tommy Wiseau as much as anyone, and I’m a big fan of Greg Sestero’s post-Room work, particularly his surreal crime saga Best F(r)iends, which cast Wiseau as a deranged mortician. Sestero’s memoir The Disaster Artist is a hilarious and surprisingly disturbing read, which was unfortunately sugar-coated in its big screen adaptation.