Funny, focused biopic

2008-01-28 00:00

I don’t usually enjoy biopics — they feel too educational and have too little in the way of plot, because generally, no matter how interesting someone is, their life doesn’t run to one. But this film, about the career of radio DJ Petey Green, who became a voice for African-Americans in the 1960s and ’70s, is hugely entertaining. I was immediately drawn in by the humour and Don Cheadles’s great performance as the irrepressible Green, and before I knew it, I was learning something too, about a very turbulent period in America’s history.

Green spent much of his youth in jail, where he DJed on prison radio and formed his first ideas of black consciousness. The film begins when he meets his lifelong friend and manager Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who works for a Washington DC radio station, WOL. Through sheer cheek, Green gets a job at WOL. With his straight-talking take on race relations, music and politics, he picks up the flagging ratings on the morning show and soon is on his way, somewhat reluctantly, to becoming a star.

Race riots and the assassination of Martin Luther King form the backdrop of this movie, but the jokes and the performances take centre stage. As the clean cut, suit-clad Hughes, Ejiofor is the perfect foil to Cheadle’s alcoholic, jive-talking Green, and Taraji P. Henson, who plays Green’s sassy girlfriend Venelle, is completely charming.

This movie has been accused of fictionalising Green’s life, but all biopics are fictions in the end. Chances are you’ll forget the details anyway and just be left with the impression of a brilliant, hard-living and most of all hilariously funny man. ****

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