Monday, July 25, 2005

Third act problems and the Whoops that Trick them

Would it be too obvious to compare Craig Brewer's Hustle and Flow and Curtis Hanson's 8 Mile? If so, call me Capt. Obvious.

Hustle and Flow is a very engaging film, though a film that works within its limitations successfully. I do not wish to denigrate what Brewer has done, it's a fine achievement, something any mother could be proud of, and an entertaining film until it has to reach both of its obvious next steps. Terrence Howard commands the screen in a role he must have salivated when he read as D Jay, a pimp who - when word reaches him about a Crunker who's hit the big time (Ludacris) coming back to town - gets his shit together to record a demo. Using his ho's to make him the dolla to afford it, he recruits an old high school friend (Anthony Anderson) to be his producer, while Anderson drags a keyboardist with beat skills (DJ Qualls) in to provide the music. Of course DJay's dreams rest upon some seriously teetering hopes, and thus leads to some huge third act problems due to the filmmakers hoping to tie up some shit in a rather commercial way. This rubs poorly as the film is built on authenticity, which it willfully abandons towards the conclusion. On some level it would have been more satisfying had would be crunker DJay been considered a joke, but his "test" (Spoilers: failing to impress the Cris) leads to his salvation after a strong but unsuccessful hustle.

The interesting comparison to 8 Mile is that in Eminem and Hanson's vision of success comes from total autonomy. Eminem/Rabbit must make it on his own, and take no one with him (a rather dire but not unrealistic view) while Hustle and Flow hits its zenith (in fact I almost wish the film ended at this point) at the hour twenty point (and I checked my watch to clock it) when Anderson's character's wife enters into the DJay home and listens to the work. For this vision, success comes from a society working together to push itself forward.

It would be interesting to suggest that this has to do with one being a "white" vision, while the other was a "black" vision, but writer/director Craig Brewer is, in fact, white. Where then does that leave us? On some level, I think I enjoy 8 Mile more, not because - though I think it is arguably true -that the character of a hustler is more central to urban mythology than suburban mythos, but due to Hanson's direction which offers an appropriate sense of hunger and loss, which I think elevates it above its formulaic setting, but also because it builds to its third act as a payoff, whereas H&F hits that section with the steam out. Still, Whoop that Trick, indeed.