by Jeanne Doherty, MLIS Day
I watch a lot of movies. Some are great, some are awful; many are right smack in between the two states. Every once in a while there will come along a film that is delightfully entertaining, but at the same time manages to shake me up and turn my preconceptions out on their ears. This year, I thought it would be ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ but as interesting as that film may have been, ‘Hustle & Flow’ is the revolution.
The film follows a small-time pimp and drug dealer named DJay (played by the almost supernaturally seductive Terrence Howard), as well as his “girls”--a softly timid and very pregnant woman named Shug, and a hard-as-nails white girl festooned with braided extensions named Nola. DJay is in the middle of a crisis about his life, and about the place to which his choices (and options) have led him. If you have seen even the tiniest preview of the film, you will know that he eventually finds a way to express his life through music, specifically hard-core Memphis-style rap.
Now, reading those words, you may think you know what to expect from this film. What a movie cliché these things have become: pimps, white-trash hookers, poor black towns, crisis and easy redemption. And the film does serve those stereotypes up to you, but it forces your eye to rest on them long enough that you begin to see more than your own tired notions. The characters feel real, complicated and singular, with plenty of inner darkness and also plenty of hidden sweet spots. The film isn’t in the business of judging them, either, or of creating tidy moralistic answers to their problems.
Like all great movies, ‘Hustle & Flow’ isn’t particularly easy on the viewer. It leaves you with plenty of unanswered questions, and a little bit of discomfort. The story is deceptively simple, and it is only when you walk away that you find yourself working over the dilemmas presented by it. The actors and director conspire to leave a little mystery behind every connection, every interaction. Contained within this little movie is a whole string of prayer beads worth of thought-problems.
How the film manages to slip these thorns in to something so exhilarating is anyone’s guess, but it does. Just in case you don’t like worrying over questions, you can walk out of this movie and take only the thrill: from watching this band of misfits create real music, from watching them triumph in a way that feels absolutely possible, from listening to some great Memphis sound. And that should be enough for anyone.