In his book On Writing Stephen King says that The Stand is the book his “longtime readers still seem to like the best (there is something a little depressing about such a united opinion that you did your best work twenty years ago…).” I think about that idea a lot when I watch movies with actors or directors whose best days are behind them.
As I mentioned in my last post, I have been watching movies from my childhood lately and that includes a lot of Eddie Murphy movies. I’ve recently watched Beverly Hills Cop 1&2, Trading Places, Coming to America, 48 hours, and The Golden Child, and I watched Beverly Hills Cop 1&2 multiple times. I love them. For years I would give Eddie Murphy as my answer to the “who is your favorite actor” question. Then came The Nutty Professor and Dr. Doolittle and they were followed up with sequels and Norbit. I stopped giving Eddie as my answer because I was embarrassed, and most people only knew or remembered him from the latter list of movies as they weren’t made 15-20 years earlier. Then I became kind of angry with him. Why does he keep making giant turds? Why did he force me to take him off my list? Why does he keep choosing lame movies? What happened?
I can’t say what happened to Eddie Murphy as I don’t know much about him other than he has some good movies and some bad ones. I’m not a journalist. To even come up with a theory, I’d have to somehow perform a Klosterman/Kilmer-esque style interview, and I haven’t seen all his movies including 2006’s Dreamgirls for which he received an Oscar nod. The question I can answer is: why do I care? Because I do care. It truly bothers me. I know that every actor will eventually make a movie or have a good run that will never be topped and often it can be early in a career, but what is so frustrating about the Eddie Murphy version is that it seemed like he stopped trying. I mean, Axel Foley to Norbit?
What you’re a fan of and what you like says a lot about you. (To watch or read a much better version of this idea see High Fidelity.) We all love to talk about what movies/bands/books we love because, whether we are aware of it or not, we are talking about ourselves:
This is my favorite band. Please think I am like them somehow.
I’m too cool to root for the home team.
This movie isn’t too smart for me.
I have the attention span for baseball.
I have heard of that book.
I’m a depressed masochist, possible alcoholic, but kind of OK with it. (Cubs fan)
We also keep interests hidden that we believe will say things about us we don’t want to share, or if we do go public with them, we label them as “Guilty Pleasures” (here is another Klosterman article you should read*). When I had to stop putting Eddie in my favorite actor list I felt a little betrayed, which I know sounds ridiculous given he is an actor I don’t know, and there isn’t a reason I should feel this sort of attachment, but it’s no more ridiculous than making a mixed CD for someone to convey your own thoughts and feelings when you wrote exactly zero of the words on it and most of us have been there. (To see how a compilation should be made just skip to the end of High Fidelity.) I care because Eddie made it harder to share a part of myself. I couldn’t just say “I like Eddie Murphy.” I’d have to qualify that answer with something like this post. I didn’t even know how to qualify him because he wasn’t a guilty pleasure either. He just kind of hangs there in no-mans-land.
If I need to qualify Eddie Murphy’s role in my life to feel better about this whole thing and to bring him up in conversation again, I’d have to say that by liking Eddie Murphy I feel like Jonah Hill trying to buy fish boots. I am rooting for him, and I just want to like him more, but he is making it extremely difficult on me.
I say all this aware of the greed and selfishness attached. I already have a lot of solid movies from him and can enjoy them over and over again as I wish. The phrase “I just want to like you” isn’t as innocent a phrase as it may seem because it comes with the pressure of having to do something likable and it makes that seem easy. I know making a good movie is hard. I heard an interview with John C. McGinley this week where he talks about he and John Cusack getting ready for the academy awards after making Fat Man and Little Boy, that is, until they saw the movie. He called the movie a “dog with fleas.” So it’s not all about picking the right script; there are countless other factors. I’m not saying Norbit could’ve ever been confused with a good movie, but there were plenty of others that Eddie may have thought had great potential: Metro, Showtime, The Adventures of Pluto Nash, and people seem to like Bowfinger. I saw it in the theater when I was in high school and I don’t think I got it. I should watch it again. We should all be so lucky for people to be disappointed with us because we have done something they love that we can’t improve upon.
But please, Eddie, make another great movie. Do a lot of very hard stressful work so I can say a few words about you. I will pay eight dollars to see it. Thanks.
*Make sure you hit the next button; it comes after the info about the author, which makes it seem like the end of the article. The article is two pages long.