“It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.”
Eddie Murphy said this just after Saturday night’s world premiere of Dolemite Is My Name at the Toronto International Film Festival, which played like gangbusters to a packed house. The 70s-set biographical comic film directed by Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow) charts the rise of multi-hyphenate Rudy Ray Moore (Murphy), an aspiring performer who found success in the snazzy and profane alter ego known as Dolemite, culminating in the production of his eponymous 1975 cult-classic Blaxploitation film.
As written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, it’s a wildly fun ride that frequently had the audience at the Princess of Wales theater in stitches. (One film a few in the audience cited for comparison’s sake is The Disaster Artist, about the making of The Room, and the appeal headed into awards season feels similar here.) Beyond the sharp script there’s plenty that pops, too: a brilliantly haughty Wesley Snipes turn as D’Urville Martin, a real breakout on-screen performance from Tony nominee Da’Vine Joy Randolph, and gorgeous costumes by Black Panther‘s Oscar winner Ruth E. Carter, who pays homage both to the era and to the spirit of Rudy Ray Moore. Also starring in the film, and in attendance at the premiere, were Tituss Burgess, Mike Epps, Keegan-Michael Key, and Craig Robinson.
But this is Murphy’s movie, and it’s the best performance he’s given in well over a decade. From the moment Dolemite was introduced in the theater, the room felt primed to celebrate a comeback for the comedy legend, who’s also making a highly anticipated return to Saturday Night Live this fall as host. Luckily, the occasion called for just that. The mention of Murphy’s name elicited cheers from the front of the orchestra to the back of the balcony, and as the end credits rolled and Murphy walked out with the rest of the film’s team, he received a lengthy standing ovation. Murphy is a riot as Rudy, to be sure, but there’s a real soul to his embodiment, too. “His story was really inspiring,” Murphy said on stage.
A long line of people involved in Dolemite fielded questions after the screening, but all roads led back to Murphy: This was his moment. “It’s an honor and a thrill to get to work with the best man in the business,” Epps said, addressing Murphy directly. Burgess, who plays Rudy’s most loyal business partner, added: “You, Eddie, were the most generous teacher. You extended such a beautiful collaborative energy to all of us. I am so deeply grateful.”
The other big moment of the night came for Randolph, who received the second loudest applause after Murphy, and maybe the most lasting of all. She got teary as many in the crowd rose in celebration of her, and expressed gratitude for the whole process.
Murphy will be in the mix for a Best Actor nomination. (You’ll hear many bang the drum for Snipes and Randolph in the supporting categories, too.) He was last nominated 12 years ago for his work in Dreamgirls, and on the night of that particular Academy Awards, he infamously walked out of the Dolby Theater after losing his category of Best Supporting Actor. If the reaction out of TIFF is any indication, though, he may get the chance to rewrite his Oscar legacy.
Dolemite Is My Name will hit select theaters on Oct. 4 before being available to stream on Netflix on Oct. 25.