NOTORIOUS is cliched, sexist, materialistic …and kind of great?


[NOTORIOUS trailer here.]

At the end of Notorious, there is a scene where the mother of Christopher Wallace (a.k.a. Biggie Smalls, a.k.a Notorious B.I.G.) is mourning the death of her son. In the scene her despair is transformed by the bittersweet knowledge that her son will be remembered through his music even though he failed in so many other aspects of his life. The curious thing about the scene is that the movie never really establishes why Biggie’s (Jamal Woolard) music was so important. The film seems to argue that Biggie’s biggest achievement was that he was successful and made a lot of money and is quite unconcerned with the artistic merit of his work.  As with Biggie’s music, I found myself enjoying Notorious even if I can’t argue that it’s actually a good movie.

The story is pretty stock standard musical biopic beginning with Wallace’s fatherless childhood, his descent into drug-dealing, the rise of his rap career, the public feud with Tupac and the many hoes Biggie enjoys along the way. In fact, this movie is so stock standard that segments of the film seem to be lifted straight out of the musical biopic parody Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. Scenes like where Biggie almost gets busted for dealing drugs but his friend takes the rap in the hope that Biggie will one day be a great rapper, or where Biggie has a heartfelt reconnection with his estranged child or where Biggie has a brilliant epiphany about life minutes before his death-by-drive-by just couldn’t have happened in real life. This might be understandable if one got the feeling that the filmmakers felt it was important for black kids to have inspirational stories about black people on screen or something.

But if this film was made for the kids, there is no way to justify the obscene objectification of women in Notorious. Director George Tillman, Jr. (Soul Food, Barbershop, Barbershop 2) is less interested in exploring Biggie’s relationships with Lil’ Kim and Faith Evans than in exploring Lil’ Kim and Faith Evans’ curves, finding as many opportunities as possible to film them in extreme closeup wearing next to nothing. It’s so gratuitous, you have to at least enjoy it on an ironic level, the way you might like to imagine that the busty hoes in an Outkast videoclip are utilised only in an ironic manner.

I’m not crash hot on the history of the East Coast-West Coast feud but it’s fairly apparent that the film is heavily biased in Biggie’s favour. Heck, this movie is produced by Diddy and stars Biggie’s son Christopher Wallace, Jr. I don’t want to reignite any East Coast-West Coast enmity so I’ll leave it to the hip hop scholars to argue over the accuracy of particular scenes in the film.

I’ve really only written about negatives in this review but they all add up to one big positive. Notorious is pleasurable in the same way it’s pleasurable to watch Cold War propaganda or fifties melodramas. It’s failings are so obvious as to border on the camp, launching Notorious into the sweet spot of being so bad it’s good.


8 Mile (Curtis Hanson, 2002)


1 Comment

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One response to “NOTORIOUS is cliched, sexist, materialistic …and kind of great?

  1. overrated rapper imo, at the age of only 24 and 2 albums deep he should not have his own movie. His life wasn’t that interesting to begin with. Maybe I am being harsh, but I agree with your point that this was aimed at young audiences. How about a movie on Wu-Tang, Nas, J Dilla, hell…even Kanye. Biggie is a circus act at this point.

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