Notorious (2008)

Rated: R for pervasive language, some strong sexuality including dialogue, nudity, and for drug content.
Length: 122 minutes
Grade: BFDA=D
Budget: $20 million
Box Office: $61 million (37 U.S., 4 Intl., 20 DVD)

Written by: Reggie Rock Bythewood (Biker Boyz, Get on the Bus) and Cheo HOdari Coker (No mentionable credits)
Directed by: George Tillman Jr. (Men of Honor, Soul Food)
Starring: Jamal Woolard, Derek Luke, Angela Bassett, Naturi Naughton, Anthony Mackie, and Antonique Smith.
This is the mostly biographical story of the rise to fame and murder of Christopher “Biggie” Wallace, the rapper normally known as Notorious B.I.G. It shows the early careers and life of Tupac Shakur, L’il Kim, and Puff Daddy.

Entertainment Value: B
My wife and I had the exact same reaction to this: this was very interesting to watch, but we didn’t exactly know why. My best guess is that it felt like watching an anthropology film about some foreign culture, since that’s pretty much what this film was depicting to us. The acting was believable, even if the actions of the characters mostly were not. The implausibility of it all, of course, is best accounted for by the feeling that we were watching people we just don’t understand. A gang war over rap music that leads to killing? Seriously? Cheating on one woman who has your baby and then on another woman and then on your wife with more children? Seriously? Yes. Seriously. I finally have some sense of what people used to mean when they talked about “that whole east coast, west coast thing.”

Superficial Content: F
Drugs/Alcohol F, Sex/Nudity F, Violence C, Language F
This is a case where going into details does more to make you think of things you shouldn’t than help you know whether to watch the film. This is vulgar in every sense of the word, but keep in mind that it’s meant to be a fairly realistic depiction of the rap star life. As such, I was willing to endure it as an essential part of an honest account. But, seriously, this is a very hard R in terms of sex, drugs, and language. If the F-word bothers you, well Kids-in-mind counted 126 for a 122 minute film. No math needed.

Significant Content: D
On the one hand, this is a sobering look at street life and the dead-end of hustling drugs. However, between the long depictions of bad behavior and then the showing of behind-the-scenes of the rap world, it’s hard to believe it’s really condemning any of the awful things its showing. If there is a redemptive message, it seems to be built around self-redemption.

Artistic/Thought Value: A
As a portrait of rap culture and black street life, this seemed quite good. The editing is awful in places where things are not in the right place from shot to shot. But if what you want is a somewhat less romanticized than the typical rap-related movie, well, this is somewhat less romanticized.

Discussion Questions:
~Do you think this movie is encouraging its audience to celebrate the thug lifestyle or to reject it? Does it want you to disapprove of behaviors like drug use, infidelity, and profanity, or does it seem to revel in them?
~When BIG says that he feels like God gave him a clean slate, do you perceive this as being a true statement?
~When his mother is talking about the influence that he has had on people being a very good thing, do you agree?
~What do you think would explain BIG’s repeated infidelities?
~If you haven’t had very much personal exposure to the rap culture, what effect does this movie have on your view of black people or of the inner cities in this country?
~Can you imagine someone watching this movie more than once? Why might they, and would that worry you about that person?

Overall Grade: D
If you want a picture of a particular part of American culture, go ahead. But I can’t recommend it, particularly for superficial content reasons.

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