I so did not want to watch this movie. Pimp wants to be rapper?
Puhlease. Even though I was favorably inclined toward lead actor
Terrence Howard, whose sleek tomcat was the best
thing about The Best Man (1999), and whose recent turn
in Crash (also with Luda) was equally
impressive, I just couldn’t see myself having fun. I was also
leary because of all the Sundance hype on this film. But, dutifully,
I attended a press screening one morning with my daughter.
I’d say it took us about, oh, three minutes to come to Jesus.
The wacky-serious opening monologue manages to avoid post-Tarantino
philosophy wanking while suggesting that one should perhaps check
one’s self for the stereotypes harbored about street-life
folk. I think what sold us, though, was one fantastic shot during
the opening credits: a freeze-frame of long hair blowing out the
side window of a land yacht, with the movie title in a big, bold,
yellow, ’70s font. Okay, we were on board, and ready for the
ride. By the middle of the movie, we were so into it that when technical
difficulties repeatedly halted the film, we were like, “C’mon,
man!” We took the opportunity to see the movie again in a
recent film society screening.
Terrence Howard plays the hell out of DJay, a Memphis pimp and
small-time dealer who can’t believe that his future holds
nothing more than his present—hustling ho’s out of a
raggedy-ass car and selling trashy weed on the cheap. A couple of
chance encounters later, and he’s pondering a career change—from
hustler to rapper. Fortunately for DJay, he’s not the only
person in town who wants something more, and he’s able to
light the spark for other people who’ve been looking for a
star to hitch their wagons to. The rest of the movie is basically
DJay’s pursuit of his dream, how far he’ll go to realize
it, and how that affects the people around him: Some of them discover
new purpose in their lives; some of them get used like Kleenex.
All of the characters had some interesting facet to them. The underpinning
of the movie is how much every character wants desperately to be
a part of something, wants to Make Something. (You can’t help
feeling that Hustle & Flow is at least partly reflective
of writer-director Brewer’s struggle to make
films on the cheap.) Brewer’s female characters aren’t
as well fleshed out as the men, and they’re also all written
to highlight some defining personality trait—the angry one
(Parker), the sweet one (Henson),
the seeker (Manning), the seditty one (Neal)—but
there’s enough there to recognize and feel for each of them.
Brewer does a great job of letting us know his tired, run-to-seed
Memphis—a Memphis of shotgun houses, weekend barbecues, and
juke joints. This must be the sweatiest movie since Spartacus.
Now I know there’ll be folks all exercised about a black
man yet again playing a hoodlum and crook. Fair enough, but remember
*sigh* it’s a mark of the persistence of the problem that
a white guy like Kevin Spacey can play a fucking
serial killer but a black man can’t play a flesh peddler without
I know Hustle & Flow may be a tough sell for certain
demographics—and you know who you are. I’ve had easily
five people say to me in the last couple of weeks, “Oh I love
music! I listen everything! … Except rap.” Nevertheless,
I urge you—see Hustle & Flow. If I’d let
my general antipathy for country music keep me from seeing Coal
Miner’s Daughter, I would’ve missed a very good
movie… and incidentally not become a Lo-retta Lynn
fan. Now I’m not saying you’ll see this movie and just
dive head-first into rap music. But you may find yourself surprisingly
interested in the crunk soundtrack, and you will have had a wonderful,
adult moviegoing experience. So yeah, pimp-wants-to-be-rapper equals
a fine movie. Still not persuaded? Ask yourself this: Did I roll
my eyes at that little Irish film about working-class kids who wanted
to rise up off the streets and become soul singers (The Commitments)?