A B.I.G. man with an even bigger dream
Notorious, directed by George Tillman Jr., is the story of the life and death of legendary hip-hop rapper Christopher “Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace, also known as Biggie Smalls. This film not only explores his career, but also examines his childhood, personal relationships, and children. Notorious has an episodic plot, which makes the film choppy in some points, and there are some acting glitches, but these things do not make the story any less entertaining.
In the film, young Biggie is played by Biggie’s real-life son, Christopher Wallace Jr. He bears a strong resemblance to his father. Biggie’s mother, Voletta Wallace, is played by well-known actress Angela Bassett.
Though Bassett’s acting is polished as always, it is disappointing that throughout Notorious she has difficulty maintaining a Jamaican accent. Once Biggie ages, he is portrayed by Jamal Woolard, who makes his on-screen debut with this film.
Notorious begins with young Biggie and his mother walking down a block in their Brooklyn, N.Y. neighborhood discussing his good grades. Waiting for them at their door is his father, whom Biggie has never met before. After realizing the type of man his father is and how his mother struggles to support them, the audience is shown Biggie’s quick transition from good student to drug dealer.
Throughout the film, we see a number of episodes that contribute to the man that Biggie eventually becomes. As a teen, his girlfriend (Julia Pace Mitchell) gets pregnant, and shortly thereafter Biggie is arrested for selling crack. While in jail, he works on his rapping, which he always considered just a hobby.
After being released, word gets around Brooklyn that Biggie has talent. Biggie’s life changes when he meets Sean “Puffy” Combs (Derek Luke). Luke does an outstanding job of portraying Puffy through his delivery of dialogue, physicality, and overall persona. His acting steals the camera, lighting up the screen.
Once Puffy launches Bad Boy Entertainment, Biggie is his leading man. Creating hit after hit, Biggie becomes a ladies man. He has a tumultuous relationship with on-again, off-again girlfriend Lil’ Kim (Naturi Naughton), who he brings into Bad Boy Entertainment, and impulsively marries Faith Evans (Antonique Smith), a singer for his label. Even with Faith becoming pregnant, this marriage does not last too long due to Biggie’s infidelity.
Toward the end of Notorious, Biggie reaches what will be the peak of his short career. The East Coast-West Coast rivalry between Death Row Records and Bad Boy Entertainment erupts, eventually leading to Biggie’s murder.
Notorious can certainly be categorized with films like Get Rich or Die Tryin’ and 8 Mile. This story does have a special flare as it gives Biggie, one of the most well-known rappers in history, more of a personality and not just a name and a voice. Audiences are able to witness what type of man he started as, what type of man he became, and all that transpired in between. In the words of Biggie, “We can’t change the world unless we change ourselves.”