When was the last time you walked out of a film? I mean fully picked up that half-eaten box of popcorn, dusted the corn shells off your lap before making every single goddamn person between you and the aisle do that awkward swivel-legs-to-the-side thing. When did you last think about how you'd spent as much on a ticket as a pair of New Look sandals cost in the summer sale, weighed that up against the minutes of life you would lose looking up at the screen and decide, 'absolutely not, I must go'?
I'm not often one for leaving the movie theatre, even when what I'm watching is dire, because I want to make sure I'm fully informed when later trashing the film in the pub. The last time I ditched a film was in the mid-2000s, when Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom and a list of other actors who should still be embarrassed about it featured in 2004's Troy. I think I lasted about 20 minutes in that slightly rundown theatre in one of Harare's shopping centres before picking up my really tacky over-the-shoulder corduroy bag modelled after the five-pocket design of a pair of jeans and leaving.
During one of the preview screenings for Benny Boom's All Eyez On Me Tupac biopic, I came dangerously close to heading for the exit three times. Once, when a performance sequence was stretching out to a length that immediately cried out for an edit. A second time when a club scene showed such a fierce commitment to shots lingering on women's butts that I laughed out loud. And a third time when a woman was painted as a vindictive liar in a sexual assault case that was much more complex than the movie let on, choosing instead to depict her smiling slyly to herself while the verdict was read out in court.
We've already covered the film on this site, in both interview and essay form, so I'm not looking to re-hash what's been said. But, now that Boom's film has been out for a couple of weeks and pulled in strong $27 million in its opening weekend, there's a bit of space to reflect on it. And with that, I would like to state my unequivocal hope that this film becomes the The Room of music biopics, the stuff of legend and cult status and late-night screenings in theatres where everyone gathers to relive the cringe one more time. Because while there is some brilliant casting in All Eyez On Me, invigorating uses of Pac's back catalogue and an attempt to squeeze so much information into a couple of hours, this is objectively not a great film. A 20 percent Rotten Tomatoes rating at the time of writing can attest to that, as far as critics go. Its script and cinematographic, at their weakest points, style make it incredibly ripe for a beautiful second life as comic relief, extending beyond the excitement that's driven people to the box office now.
The backlash from people who were either close to Tupac or close to the project has already bubbled up since All Eyez On Me was released. The day it debuted – on what would've been Pac's birthday – Jada Pinkett Smith expressed her disappointment in the film's depiction of her relationship with Tupac, in a series of tweets. Then last week, John Singleton – who'd been pegged to direct the film originally, before leaving under circumstances that still aren't clear – gave his final thoughts on Boom's effort in a radio interview.
When asked if he was more displeased with how the final result came out, or how it had been made, Singleton sounded torn. "Let me put this in perspective: when Spike Lee was doing Malcolm X, he had everybody on every street corner in Brooklyn and New York saying, 'Spike, don't mess up Malcolm X – this is too important to us.' The people that were involved in this movie didn't have that pressure at all, they just made a movie. They didn't think of it as a cultural event, in terms of something that affected our generation, you know what I mean? People who are younger, who don't really understand the legacy of Tupac Amaru Shakur, they just go to a movie and they see a rap star. But dude was much more than a rap star. So that's why I'm really upset."
All Eyez, somewhat understandably, struggled to grapple with all the various textures of Tupac's life, shaving them down to a buffed sheen. What you're left with is a story crying out to be told in a multi-part TV series or narrowed to a much tighter focus within the time constraints of a feature-length film. And ultimately that's what could lend All Eyez its unintentional comedy status, along the lines of The Room. By trying to cram in all of Pac's multitudes – his inconsistencies, his conflicting ideas, his various public personas, his political upbringing, his eloquence in the face of a deeply non-progressive society – and losing their nuance along the way, we've ended up with a film that, as Singleton says, feels more like that grim Lifetime Aaliyah film than, say, Selena, Straight Outta Compton or Anton Corbijn's Control. So while this retelling of Tupac's life clearly doesn't please Singleton or Pinkett Smith, it's packed with enough golden quotes and unintentionally hilarious scenes to fuel cult status. Framed that way, there'd be little reason to want to walk out.
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