Just had a chance to see it for the first time yesterday, here’s my official mooovie review:
Considering we’re not too far removed from critically acclaimed biopics about Ray Charles (Ray) and Johnny Cash (Walk The Line), Notorious, a film about Christopher Wallace (aka Notorious B.I.G., Biggie Smalls) might seem premature. Keep in mind though that the world has been without the Notorious B.I.G. longer than it has Charles and Cash, so maybe the time was just right?
(left: How does Notorious stack up against other music movies? Well…)
Like Ray, Walk The Line, La Bamba, or even Walk Hard–the film that parodies these movies–Notorious falls into the normal trappings of a music movie: subject gets picked on, turns his struggle into art, and has a definitive breakthrough moment, in this case, it’s Biggie (Jamal Woolard) reigning supreme in a sidewalk freestyle battle in Brooklyn. From there we also get the run-of-the-mill “first” concert scene, where Wallace is hissed and heckled, only to be adored seconds later as he rips into “Party and Bullshit.” And a music movie wouldn’t be complete without a scene in a recording studio where (insert artist’s name here) performs their signature hit for a smiley-faced producer nodding with approval through the control room window.
Notorious–as most motion pictures about music do–attempts to sum up an entire body of work in just two hours. Because of that, every scene seems to mark a profound moment in Biggie’s life, giving the film–what I call–the “Cold Stone Creamery Effect” (one scoop of the densely rich ice cream is delicious, but by the third bite you want to throw it all up cause it’s just too sweet). With an over abundance of profundity we hear Puff Daddy (Derek Luke) speaking only in motivational quotes and Mrs.Wallace (Angela Bassett) delivering over-the-top dramatic dialogue every chance she gets.
Because I’m familiar with the era of hip-hop in which Biggie rose to fame, I could easily read between the lines, but someone not familiar with his career may have a hard time following (and understanding) certain events, especially how the East Coast vs. West Coast feud got so out of hand–which Notorious needed to develop a lot more than it did.
Without question, the highlight of Notorious is Jamal Woolard’s spot-on performance. If you close your eyes, he is the Notorious B.I.G.–delivery, swagger, lisp and all. Besides Angela Basset, Notorious is also free of any big-name actors, who do a fine job of keeping the focus on the story. I’m sure it would have been easy to enlist a well-known, hip-hop artist/actor to star in the film, but the rags-to-riches tale is tough to tell with someone who has already made it to the top in real life (you think Rocky would have been Rocky if Burt Reynolds starred in it?).
Not surprisingly, the only time I felt a little twinge in my tear ducts was when Notorious used real-life video clips. The biggest downfall of any movie about a music legend is that it’s damn near impossible to duplicate someone who was one in a million. Why would I pay to see a movie about Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, or Christopher Wallace’s life story when I could just put on a pair of headphones and hear them tell it to me?