Hall of Fame Speech #4: Norbit

Brief note before we start: last July we got together and worked out a first class to be inducted into the Smaddies Baddies BMT Hall of Fame. It has been nearly six years since we started BMT and the films we had seen more than five years ago, in some cases, deserved a rewatch and reassessment. Over the next two weeks leading up to the fourth (sixth?) Smaddies Baddies we’ll bring you previews and Hall of Fame Speeches for the five films chosen. This is the fourth, for the raucous Eddie Murphy comedy magnum opus, Norbit. The intention is to reminisce a bit about what we remember about the film, what we think of it now, and why it deserved a special place in BMT history. Enjoy!

Hall of Fame Induction Speech for Norbit

Helllllluuuuuuur everyone! I rewatched the movie (gulp) Norbit this week. Norbit was, for me, top of the class for the BMT Hall of Fame. Not because it was the most BMT film (Street Fighter of Chun Li takes that award). It isn’t the most famous and rewarding bad movie (that is probably Battlefield Earth). Rather, Norbit is, bar none in my opinion, the worst film we have ever ever done for BMT. Stunning! How can this be? Just hear about what I remember about this film (not what I gleaned from subsequent viewing, oh no … this is what I remember from a single viewing nearly six years ago):

  • I remember the extremely racist chinese character played by Eddie Murphy. The character is mind-bending. It is genuinely shocking to see the character get into a film. It makes you think about how much creative control Murphy must have still had at the time. He was still able to churn out $100 million dollar comedies, and it did come out about a year after Dreamgirls. I think, upon reflection using all of the accrued BMT knowledge I have, one of the major reasons this movie is Hall of Fame was it is a nearly perfect example of what happens when you hand over complete control to a single (crazy?) person, and this character exemplifies it.
  • I remember actually literally being sick to my stomach in the middle of this film. You are watching a man in a seriously abusive relationship. Physically and emotionally abusive. If Rasputia was a man and Norbit was a women this would be a horror film. I don’t feel the need nor do I think it is my place to comment on social issues in the context of BMT, but in all seriousness I wonder how Eddie Murphy (and Charlie Murphy and the other two screenwriters) thought this was funny. Was the script really old and Murphy punched it up and updated it a bit after getting a greenlight from Dreamgirls? It is perplexing to me, and sadly I know I will never get an answer to that question (indeed, the DVD does not have a commentary with any of the writers that could have illuminated the mysteries of this film).
  • I remember being blown away from the makeup. Compare this to Big Momma’s House: There is no contest. I’ll be paying close attention to the faces in this film. There is a reason this film was nominated for an Oscar for makeup.
  • I remember the beach scene. Mostly because I had, at that point, been exposed to BMT favorite Madea only once by then. In the show Meet the Browns she shows up to teach one of the children good manners. The conversation went something like this:
    Madea: Now say helluurrrr
    Child: Hello!
    Madea: No! You got to say it fancy when you are speaking to an adult, say it like this: Helllluuuuuuuuuurrrrrrrr

    This is significant because in the beach scene Eddie Murphy as Rasputia says things in the exact same manner. For me this was kind of a mind blowing moment. One of those meta out-of-body moments where all of a sudden it hit me: I am not the audience for this film! Something deep within the shared culture of Eddie Murphy and Tyler Perry came a common impersonation of what I assume is someone acting like what they think a “proper” southern lady sounds like. This is part of the reason I genuinely love Madea films (and Tyler Perry films in general). I think there is something to watching movies not made for you and to sometimes allowing subjectivity to be a part of reviewing Hollywood films.

Hoooooooweeeeee I’m telling you, this film stuck to my bones. I’m happy it came up so early in BMT, because comedies are a tricky genre, and to have a few really impressive ones perform early was probably instrumental in keeping us going with our strict genre rotation.

So how did the film hold up? You know what … let’s do this recap style:

  • The Good – This movie is better than I remembered! Norbit himself is actually a solid character well acted by Murphy. The film is also heartwarming at times, how much the town seems to love Norbit indicates in a strange way that a much better movie could have maybe been made. Really star studded cast.
  • The Bad – I felt physically ill again in the middle of the film. Rasputia is a monster. In one of the first scenes with Norbit as an adult he tries to merely say that he didn’t mess with his wife’s car seat and she punches him in the face. She throws him through a window. She runs down a dog and then says she only regrets that she didn’t kill it. She pushes a speaker onto Norbit and puts him in the hospital. The kicker? When mad with jealousy of Norbit’s childhood friend Kate she indicates that if he talks to her again she’ll throw industrial acid in Kate’s face … empty threat? She literally melts a potato with industrial acid. The film isn’t funny, it is a testament to domestic abuse and how we dismiss it because of misguided perception that men can’t be weak and women can’t be physically abusive. I have to say this as well: Mr. Wong was just as racist as I remembered. He says (and I quote): “We got a brack one this time!” … He said brack … with an r instead of an l. It’s in the trailer! He is illogically obsessed with whaling. He is awkward, and unnecessary, and yeah … he’s a fucking racist caricature, and awful. If this character didn’t exist I might have been able to look past Rasputia antics as a misguided idea of comedy … but the one two punch is hard to move past without feeling bad about yourself.
  • The BMT – Yes. This movie is one of the worst things I’ve ever seen and is easily a 70+ BMT. Did you read the above two paragraphs, get out of here.

This movie was better than I remember, but that isn’t saying much at all. The story is fine, the acting is at worst below average, and I thought Murphy as Rasputia and Norbit was quite good. But the jokes are top to bottom awful. Spouted by unpleasant people doing sickening things. I’ve written a lot, but I will say this as a final thought: Through all six years of BMT I still maintain this is the worst film I’ve seen, and a rewatch did nothing to dissuade me of that feeling. That feeling of being literally ill while watching a film is hard to replicate. And that is why Norbit belongs in the Hall of Fame

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