Saturday, January 17, 2009


I went to the theatre last night to see the Biggie biopic 'Notorious'. I know I could have peeped a bootleg of it like a week ago but as schmaltzy as it sounds I figured if I was gonna watch this flick at all it was going to have to be in a crowd so that the added benefit of the community experience might make up for whatever the film lacks (and I thought it would lack a lot). A part of me wanted to go to a late showing of this in the hood but that same part of me didn't want to get shot in the name of authenticity and as of the New Year I had deleted most of my hood affiliates and tour guides from my phonebook. In reality I still wouldn't feel safe unless me and Clint Eastwood rolled up on the block in his Gran Torino so I don't even know what I was thinking about with that. I actually ended up in a showing in the 'burbs where my friend and I had to show I.D. to signify that we were 'guardians' to some underaged niglets and accompany them into the theatre just so they could see the film. I scoffed at all the extra regulations but, a half hour into the movie I and most of the audience felt like we weren't old enough to be watching what we were watching either. All I'll say is Naturi Naughton was really puttin her all into that role....and that she got some tittays on her. BTW I am not especially opposed to nudity on film but this movie made me realize that there's something really eerie about watching some porno on a big screen in a room full of strangers.

To get the complaints out of the way, its pretty plain that Diddy had his hands on this film a little too much. Almost every profound thing Big says and does in this film was inspired by, or was a suggestion from Puffy (Derek Luke). He, Voletta (Angela Bassett), and Faith Evans (Antonique Smith) appear to have no flaws and I'm sure their live counterparts working behind the scenes with the director had more than a little bit to do with that. However, that's probably for the best because it helps us focus on the main character's performance. Jamal Woolard does a great job as Biggie, encompassing the laidback bravado that we all grew up with as well as the vulnerabilities that we suspected but never really got to see. And despite my complaints about Puff's onscreen fairy godmother status Luke does surprisingly well in translating the fun and obnoxiousness of Sean Combs without channeling too much of the actual Sean Combs. I'm thankful for this because the approximations of Puffy's silly ass dances are amusing but an authentic level of Diddy realism would surely force me from the theatre.

The roles that stole the show were Smith as Faith Evans and Naughton who played a nuanced and interesting Lil' Kim. I heard that Kim wasn't consulted for her portroyal in the film but her story is pretty compelling despite or possibly because of her absence behind the scenes, otherwise she might've gotten the boring saint treatment that the other characters got. Anthony Mackie as Tupac was creating a problem for me and his being cast is one of the films bigger flaws in my opinion. He's a decent actor but he wasn't channeling Pac in a way that made me go 'Oh snap. that's Pac!' which is really what these characters are supposed to do. Not to mention the way minds work, certain actors among certain environments invoke distracting memories. For instance while watching the 2Pac scenes my brain goes: rap movie + Anthonie Mackie = 8 Mile, and now every time he appears on screen I hear 'Now everybody from the 313 get ya motherfckn hands up and follow me!' He wasn't terrible or anything, and when he remembers to bug his eyes out he almost has you fooled but they should've went with an unknown on that one.
The director also decided to go with ambiguity and neutrality with regards to the details of Biggie's death. I agree that for the type of film this is (celebratory rather than expository) that was probably the best decision. But the vagueness of it made for some bizarre dialogue.

Actual Scene
*phone rings*
Biggie: Hello
Caller: Hey Nigga, you gon leave out here with a fuckin toetag on'. We gon fuckin kill you.
Biggie: Yo. who the fuck is this?
Caller: West Coast, nigga!
*dial tone*

What? Really? The 'West Coast' killed Big? Alright, whatever..moving on.

Going into it with generic to low expectations I was pleasantly surprised. It's a good movie. The cast really got into their roles and save a few exceptions it did what it was supposed to do. Tell B.I.G.'s story? Nah. I don't even think that's what it was supposed to do. You don't learn anything about Christopher Wallace that you didn't already know or presume, which in the grand scheme of things isn't all that much. But there's something emotionally satisfying about seeing glimpses of the stories behind the people who made the music you loved because it plays to your nostalgia. They could have included Kim getting an abortion after getting pregnant with Biggies child but who wants to think about depressing shit like that? We wanna recite the lyrics to the songs we can't help but know the lyrics to and feel proud of our generation for supporting an artist even in death to similar levels of iconic prestige that other generations support and mythologize their heroes (Elvis, anyone?). I'll admit that a really interesting biopic would be an authentic one, telling the sides of the story that we haven't heard or haven't heard enough of and cutting away the bullshit but I would rather see that as a documentary than a feature film. This film reminds me of a (possibly imaginary) time when we were young and rap was something you hid from your parents while you obsessed over it with your friends and older siblings. It reminds you of a time when hip hop was something you really cared about, when you were young enough to think all of the era's rap gossip and drama was really important and how you felt when you sadly realized it kind of was. Seeing it in a sold out theatre in a suburb also makes you realize how many people from all kinds of backgrounds cared about all of that stuff the same way you did. It is by no means perfect but when you hear 'Hypnotize' boom through theatre speakers at the final scene of the movie you must admit it did what it was supposed to do. In apreciation, we as an audience greeted the credits with a round of applause for the movie, for hip hop and for B.I.G. and I for one thought that was pretty dope.


Torrance Stephens - All-Mi-T said...

they say his mom didnt even know half of the shit he was doing

Ms. Shai said...

yeah true, i believe it though. most times when u got strict parents u get really good at hiding things.

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