Black Film Streaming Pick: Life
The Origins of Eddie Murphy's 'Dolemite Is My Name' Resides in 'Life'
Welcome back to my “Black Film Streaming Pick” series, a continuous column about Black films currently available on streaming platforms. If you haven’t already, take a look at my last pick: Wayne Wang’s charming rom-com Last Holiday, which is still available to rent on Prime Video or stream on Paramount+.
This time around, I have a two-for-one: I’m writing about how one of my favorite Eddie Murphy films (Life) ties in with Dolemite Is My Name — a biopic that served as his renaissance. Both are available to stream on Netflix.
When Dolemite Is My Name premiered at the Princess of Wales Theater at the Toronto International Film Festival, there was a component of Eddie Murphy’s vital performance that carried a familiar ring. At the time I couldn’t place my finger on the past performance Murphy appeared to be channeling. It felt classic: the quick talking, big dreaming renegade pining for heroic triumphs.
In his resurgent turn, directed Craig Brewer, Murphy portrays the real life Rudy Ray Moore: a comedian, MC, and record store employee. Rudy isn’t content living in obscurity. He craves the limelight: He initially releases his own comedy album, and then later, along with his friends Lady Reed (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), Jerry Jones (Keegan-Michael Key), Teddy (Tituss Burgess), and more—he independently produces his own Blaxploitation film. In Murphy’s on screen persona is a brightness, a genuine humanism speaking to a can-do creative spirit that exemplifies the drive that pushed Rudy past the white powerbrokers to movie stardom.
For Murphy, Dolemite Is My Name served as a comeback. Creatively lost in his hard shift to dad movies, such as Imagine That and Mr. Church, and spiraling in lesser material like Meet Dave and A Thousand Words — he desperately needed to return to his roots. He also required a filmmaker aware of him, not as a brand, but of his rangy past work. Similar to how Quentin Tarantino, a student of the 1970s, revitalized Pam Grier’s career, the devoutly 1980s superfan Brewer was the perfect director for Murphy. With Dolemite Is My Name he recaptured everything Murphy once was and could be again. And while I sat in Princess of Wales, seeing the comedic actor ply his trade once more, I got the sense that this performance, while evocative of his classic persona, also appeared to tap into something more specific.