Girl Power:
A Review of Biggie Opus Notorious

by Tony Phillips

"Who you calling a bitch, niggah?" How one feels about these fighting words rapper Lil’ Kim spits at her outsized man will largely determine how one feels about Notorious, George Tillman’s new big screen bio-pic in which Brooklyn’s own Jamal Woolard uncannily resuscitates slain rapper Christopher "The Notorious B.I.G." Wallace.

If you’re looking for Oliver Stone/Zapruder tape revelations about the double shootings of both hip-hop legends Wallace and his one-time, West Coast compadre Tupac Shakur, this isn’t your film. Both principals involved in this production - Wallace’s mother Voletta and svengali Diddy - gloss over events surrounding the brutal homicides.

But if it’s an XL helping of ghetto fabulousness one is after, look no further. While the film bears Wallace’s tag in the title, this portrait is really about the cat-fighting ladies and Wallace juggled enough of them to people another season of The Real Housewives of Atlanta. This is essentially a women’s picture with guns.

There’s Wallace’s baby momma Jan, played by Julia Pace Mitchell, who tells the teenage drug dealer she’s pregnant with his child, then lets dozens of emotions wash over her face while her bamboo earrings tremble.

His aforementioned bitch, played exquisitely by Naturi Naughton, is introduced only by that infamous mole and the "Kim Jones" nameplate on her uniform. Soon after she meets "Big Poppa" cute on the corners of Fulton and Jones in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy, she’s out of that uniform for good. In a film littered with stellar debuts these two performances stand out auspiciously.

Then there’s Wallace’s wife Faith Evans, played by ringer Antonique Smith, and his mother Voletta, played by Angela Bassett, who earned an Academy Award nomination for bringing Tina Turner to life. She deserves at least as much for her turn here as a woman who shows just as much resolve as Turner in similar life-threatening circumstances. Her icy "no parent should have to bury their child" speech alone should have her shopping for an Oscar dress next year.

Mother Wallace is beatific for sure. She tries to keep her son straight by tossing his crack stash that she calls an "old plate of mashed potatoes." And there’s not a window she frets before that doesn’t backlight her while its panes jump off the screen like a giant cross. Her "too fat, black and ugly" son obliges this Mary complex by toweling up in a makeshift shroud as the film begins to wander.

There’s a cheap "blame the media" ending tacked on that stops conveniently short of Voletta coming out of mourning on the MTV Awards to shout, "Big up to Brooklyn." But when things circle back to her 24-year-old’s tragic demise, one realizes all rappers eventually lose their way in the end.