I would love to have seen the look on the casting director’s face when newcomer Jamal Woolard came in to read for the part of Biggie Smalls, a.k.a. the Notorious B.I.G. Woolard looks so much like the real Christopher Wallace that at times during the movie you feel as if you are watching Wallace play himself in this biopic, like Eminem did in 8 Mile. Jamal did an amazing job of playing this very challenging role in Notorious. You can clearly see on his face and in his physical carriage how at each crossroads in Biggie’s life, like his mother’s battle with cancer or his own incarceration for drug dealing, cause him to become more polished and grounded both as a performer and lyricist and as a human being.
Kimberly Jones a.k.a. Lil’ Kim was Biggie’s real life lover and musical discovery as he pulled her off the streets out of a retail sales job before producing her music. Lil’ Kim was wonderfully played by Naturi Naughton. There is a scene where Lil’ Kim is at the height of her performing powers after Biggie has married another girl and Naughton spits out the lyrics to Biggie who she sees watching from offstage with such ferocity, venom and rhythmic beauty that again you feel that you are watching the artist herself in action.
The only unsatisfying thing about the film is its explanation of the feud, which ended both Biggie’s life at the young age of 24 and also his friend/rival Tupac Shakur’s (played by Anthony Mackie). In the film it is shown to the audience as a mistake, a total misunderstanding played up by the press, which leads to the fatal drive by shootings. But there seems to be some missing history there, some animosity prior to the fatal bloodshed, which remains untold and undefined.
Given that this film was produced in part by Biggie’s own mother and longtime friend and producer Puff Daddy with an appearance by Biggies own son Christopher Jordan Wallace playing Big as a child, it is not surprising that Big’s character is given a clean slate by the end of the film complete with his prophetic and apologetic phone calls to each member of his extended family, including both his baby mamas the night he died.
Glossed over history or not, this film is worth seeing for Woolard’s hauntingly, spot on performance and for the way it clearly demonstrates the real art form of Rap and R&B music that developed as a direct result of Biggie’s unusually literate and sensual lyrics for the genre at the time.