A poor white kid from Detroit struggles to rise above poverty and a broken home in 8 Mile, an obscenity-strewn Rocky for the gangsta rap generation. It stars controversial artist Eminem as Rabbit, a polite, hard worker with a gift of rhyme. He’s a loyal pal. He defends his mom from an abusive live-in boyfriend, looks out for his baby sister, and even gives his car to the girlfriend he just cut loose. Aw, what a guy.
8 Mile makes Eminem a sympathetic underdog. The audience wants to see him win public rap battles (contestants have 45 seconds to insult rivals in street rhyme) and win a record deal that will change his life. As an actor, Eminem’s range goes from weary indifference to rage and back again. Yet the camera loves him. And so will many viewers. I had to keep reminding myself that this is the same caustic entertainer whose CDs feature lyrics about sodomizing his mom, slitting his father’s throat, shooting toddlers, knifing prostitutes, and murdering the mother of his child before dumping her body off a pier.
Beyond being an illusory PR coup for Eminem, there are other reasons to avoid this gritty look at the rap subculture circa 1995. It fires off obscenities with the flurry of a tommy gun. More than 300 f-words and s-words are joined by sick sexual slang and abuses of God’s name. Fairly graphic sex scenes (two in public) show participants in various stages of undress. Add approving nods to alcohol, tobacco and marijuana, plus a ready-to-party "religious" rapper ("It’s Saturday. I can get straight with the Lord on Sunday") and 8 Mile becomes the distance teens should put between themselves and this movie.