Hustle & Flow

on July 22, 2005 by Francesca Dinglasan
In what might be called the grittier indie version of Universal's "8 Mile," given its rapper-from-the-'hood-makes-good storyline, "Hustle & Flow" presents the world of a pimp, his loyal hos and the unlikely churchgoing friends who help him realize his dream. Ripe for rehashed stereotypes and simplistic storytelling, the film successfully avoids those traps, resulting in an engaging narrative that manages to be both true and respectful to the characters and milieu it portrays.

Set in the Memphis ghetto under the hot Southern sun, "Hustle & Flow" follows the story of Djay (Terrence Howard), a street pimp becoming increasingly unhappy with his life. Among the women under his charge is the young and feisty Nola (Taryn Manning, who appeared as Eminem's ex-girlfriend in "8 Mile"); the mouthy, spirited stripper Lexus (Paula Jai Parker); and the sweet-natured but very pregnant Shug (Taraji Henson). Inspiration strikes Djay one day when he runs into his old high school friend, Key (Anthony Anderson). Key, who works as a sound recorder, invites Djay and Nola to sit in on a job at a church where Key is recording gospel singers. Moved by what he hears, Djay confides to Key that he always wanted to record a rap demo. Himself dissatisfied that his career in the "music business" never took off, Key agrees to help Djay, enlisting the assistance of a wispy and pale white tech whiz named Shelby (DJ Qualls). Determined to overcome the pitfalls of their poverty, the motley group mobilizes to put together the demo, which fast becomes the symbol of future happiness and upward mobility to everyone involved.

Reported to have been financed out-of-pocket by producers John Singleton and Stephanie Allain, "Hustle & Flow" is the most successful film to come out of Sundance to date, having been picked up by Paramount and MTV Films for a cool $9 million. Under the MTV banner, the film will most likely be promoted to the young, hip-hop loving audience that already stands as the feature's core demographic. And while the boisterous soundtrack so pivotal to the movie's plot may be a turnoff to those uninterested in rap music, at the heart of "Hustle & Flow" is a timeless and well-made story of personal redemption, enhanced by Howard's breakthrough performance and winning turns from every single supporting cast member. Starring Terrence Howard, Anthony Anderson, Taryn Manning, Taraji Henson, Paula Jai Parker, DJ Qualls and Ludacris. Directed and written by Craig Brewer. Produced by John Singleton and Stephanie Allain. A Paramount Classics release. Drama. Rated R for sex and drug content, pervasive language and some violence. Running time: 114 min

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