Notorious! Reviewed!

My first exposure to the Notorious B.I.G. was his video for "Big Poppa", a jam that has stood the test of time while displaying some of the nastiest video chicks ever. Who cast those hot tub girls? And the girl at the bar? That woman is 80% teeth. Back in the mid nineties, I did not count B.I.G. as a rap star on the level of say 2Pac or Snoop, simply because he wasn't as visible on MTV. Of course, that probably had more to do with his physical appearance than song choices, and by his second album it was nearly impossible to get away from "Hypnotize". In college Josh and Sean sat me down after I broke up with a girl and made me listen to "Friend of Mine", while they danced around and sang the lyrics in my face, which I think was intended to make me feel better. Results were mixed emotionally, but even through my melancholy haze I had to admit it was a pretty funny song.

Notorious B.I.G.- "Friend of Mine"

Actually sitting down and listening to Ready To Die from beginning to end, you're struck by the flow and the wit. Biggie Smalls was a pretty intelligent guy, and while his views on women were, shall we say, less than revolutionary, he had style and charisma on the mic and certainly stands as one of the greatest rappers of all time. Dead at 24 with only two official albums released, I questioned whether a Notorious B.I.G. movie even needed to be made, let alone whether I would want to see it. But 90's nostalgia got the best of me and I braved treacherous snow covered roads last Saturday night to meet up with Lauren, Luca and Brian and check out the big guy's life story.

Notorious is a pretty good time, anchored by some quality performances. Props to the casting director for deciding on Derek Luke for Puffy and Anthony Mackie as 2Pac. Luke doesn't really look like Puffy, but the Puffy in Notorious is decidedly more sage than I remember him, and while I would hesitate to call him saintly, Puff certainly doesn't seem to possess a mean bone in his body. When 2Pac and Suge Knight are bad mouthing Bad Boy, Puffy tells everyone to take the high road and be better people. And when Biggie first comes to his office, Puff is quick to let him know that Biggie's drug dealing days are over if he wants to be a star. Puffy doesn't have a scene where he walks on water, but I'm sure it'll be on the DVD. Anthony Mackie's 2Pac is coolest, most awesome guy ever. His every appearance is a sparkle, and Biggies voiceover oversells it a bit, stopping just short of "Pac, man, that dude was too cool for school, yo." His few appearances make the idea of a 2pac movie staring Mackie sound like a great idea. Justin, get cracking on a script!

The film follows a rather standard arc of triumph and heartbreak, though most of the issues in Biggie's life(besides getting shot dead), resolve themselves simply in a couple of scenes. Biggie's mom get's breast cancer! But then she gets better. Biggie cheats on his wife, who finds out and slams a door in a groupie's face and beats the shit out of her! But Biggie win's his wife back by beatboxing. And so on.

Jamal Woolard's portrayal of Biggie is capable and winning, though perhaps a bit too sympathetic, his puppy dog eye's felt just a touch too tender in scenes I felt he should have held himself slightly more menancingly. Biggie's hardscrabble life is a bit too shiny, to the point where a scene during which Biggie sells crack to a pregnant woman lacks the true grit of a similar scene on The Wire. But in fairness, Notorious isn't supposed to be The Wire, but a celebration of the life of an artist. The films greatest moments all revolve around B.I.G.'s music, which you might recall is the reason anyone knows who he is in the first place. Notorious has plenty of fine scenes where we see Biggie writing, recording and performing, and they elevate the film tremendously. My favorite scene involves the creation of Biggie's most iconic track, "Juicy". After Puffy plays the "Juicy" sample for Biggie the first time, Big is thrown. "What is this shit?", he asks while his entourage giggles along. Puff points out that without a song on the radio, "you'll just be another mixtape rapper no one's ever heard of." Puffy leaves and Biggie sits for a moment and then says, "I need more weed….and get some women up here!" Some chronic, titties and head later, a classic was born. I am certain most classic songs are written that way.

Notorious finishes up rather cleanly, with Biggie's funeral intercut with a family dinner of happiness and good feelings. I was a incredulous at the idea that the night he died Biggie had the forethought to call his mother, estranged wife and Lil' Kim and apologize for all his wrong doing's in his relationships with them. That struck me as a bit too pat, but hey, when they make a movie about me, I don't want to look like a dick either.

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One Response to “Notorious! Reviewed!”

  1. achtungbaby023 Says:

    Never underestimate the romantic power of beatboxing.

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