CATEGORIES Documentary, Sundance, Theatrical Reviews, Sundance Reviews 2009, Reviews, Sundance Film Festival, Cinematical
Heading in to watch The Carter, a new documentary that chronicles the life and times of Dwayne Michael Carter Jr. (aka Lil' Wayne), I thought what more is there to know about the hip, slick, fast-paced rapper lifestyle? Well, surprisingly, director Adam Bhala Lough expertly pieces together not just a movie about another well-to-do rapper, but one about a workaholic, a drug addict, a father, an artist and an icon.
When we first shove our way into Lil' Wayne's life, he's holed up in a hotel room in Amsterdam, smoking mass amounts of marijuana while he religiously stands at a make-shift mic for hours recording songs on the fly thanks to the portable studio he brings with him everywhere. We learn Wayne's new album, The Carter III, is due in stores in nine days -- and even though a million copies have already leaked overseas, Wayne and his manager both feel they'll sell a million copies in the first week. As we jump back and forth between the United States and Europe, we slowly become more intimate with Wayne through his interviews with international reporters, as well as through the unpredictable man himself.
Wayne, who was born and raised in New Orleans, has risen to become one of (if not) the most famous and sought-after rap artists in the world. And if there were any doubters out there, they're silenced when, during his new album's debut week, The Carter III easily surpasses Kayne West's latest with a million sold. The news hits Wayne while he's on his tour bus, smoking pot, blasting his own music with a television turned only to ESPN on mute. His reaction: "Next time it's five million in one week."
The topic of drugs comes up briefly a couple times -- most notably when Wayne's manager reveals that he no longer rides on "the bus" because of his old friend's addictions. And it's not just marijuana; Wayne carries with him a bottle of "the syrup" everywhere he goes, which is some sort of codeine-based concoction he mixes with whatever he's drinking at the time so that a constant and consistent buzz is felt. When drugs are brought up to Wayne during an interview, he gets serious about his no alcohol stance and even laughs off ever doing heroin because he's too hyper ... even if his current pleasures place him one step above a smack addict.
But when it comes to his music, Wayne is a machine. The man is constantly recording new songs (he's now up over 1000) without writing anything down for fear someone would try to sell his "journals" or "notes" when he dies. And when he's not recording, he's on his bus or in a hotel room or on stage blasting his own music, memorizing the lyrics -- dancing, swaying, smoking and simply becoming his own number one fan. Speaking of ego, one of the more memorable parts of the doc comes when, during a one-on-one interview, Wayne abruptly shuts it down mid-sentence when the reporter asks whether New Orleans jazz or poetry was ever an influence on his music. But Wayne doesn't want to talk jazz or poetry because Wayne didn't invent jazz or poetry -- and the last thing he wants is someone comparing him to something else. Wayne wants to be an original -- he wants to be the inventor -- and if you question him on this, you won't get very far.
Director Adam Bhala Lough takes an interesting approach with the doc, providing little to no framework -- just harsh, loud, frenetic snippets of Wayne's life on the road -- some of which include Wayne's lyrics and a chat with his young daughter who says the greatest present she's ever received from her father was his company. And while those hardcore fans of Lil' Wayne might enjoy the doc more for the music and those up-close-and-personal shots of their hero, the rest of us will watch a passionate, talented man who's slowly losing himself; fading into a world that probably won't need him anymore in a couple years ... if he stays alive that long.