Before there was Hustle & Flow, and way before the Footloose remake, there was The Poor & Hungry. Director Craig Brewer has finally released the latter for download and on hard copy. I've been hearing about the movie for years, and finally seeing it did not disappoint.
The Poor & Hungry, shot in the late 90s, is very indie, and I mean that in the absolute best way possible. Brewer wrote, directed, and filmed most of it himself. It was shot digitally (in black and white) before digital was cool. Local musicians provided the soundtrack, and much of the cast and crew were volunteers. It was shot entirely in Memphis, at actual strip clubs and car shops. The Poor & Hungry won a Hollywood Film Festival Award in 2000, which led to Hustle & Flow, which led to Three 6 Mafia's Academy Award, MTV's Memphis $5 Cover web series…the list goes on.
I've heard about this film for years since I moved to Memphis. Any time Brewer released a movie, reviewers would include The Poor & Hungry in their list of his films; if I went to local film fest, someone would reference it. If I went to the P&H Cafe, I'd hear someone ask, "Didn't Craig Brewer make a movie about this place?" Then I heard that people stole all the copies from Black Lodge Video years ago, and after that The Poor & Hungry seemed like an urban legend.
But it is very real, and as of this week, you can download it here for free. More on that later in the post. For now, here's my take on the The Poor & Hungry.
On the set of The Poor & Hungry.
It's about a reluctant car thief and strip club bouncer named Eli (Eric Tate) who falls in love with Amanda (Lake Latimer), a soft-spoken cellist who has her own problems. Eli's friend Harper (Lindsey Roberts) is a fast-talking, very rough-around-the edges sort of gal. She's trying to get Eli's chop shop boss to sell a fancy Cadillac to a "gentleman" (read: runs a massage parlor) named Cowboy Earl (T.C. Sharpe), in hopes that she'll get a substantial finder's fee to supplement her income peddling colored contacts to strippers.
Eli's character is so darn thoughtful and earnest (even while he's committing all kinds of crimes), while Harper is raucous, crude, and funny. The contrast of these two characters and their circumstances create palpable suspense, thankfully without all the usual orchestral crescendos that signal "something's about to happen!" in a lot of movies. I was sucked in and lost track of time while I was watching, which is not something I often experience with films.
FYI: This movie has plenty of cursing, violence, and nudity. I thought this was essential to the authenticity of the setting and the story and it didn't bother me, but this isn't for kids.
When you watch this, don't miss:
- The look on Harper's face when she enters the strippers' dressing room (it's at about 41:58).
- When Harper says, "If there's one thing I know about Memphis strippers, it's that they got a warped sense of economics."
- Cowboy Earl's Prayer for Automobile Protection.
- The Poor & Hungry's version of "The Cup Song". I love you Anna Kendrick, but the Memphis version, even without vocals, is my favorite.
If you love Memphis or good movies or Craig Brewer or supporting Memphis arts and film, you should check out The Poor & Hungry. You can download it for free because Mr. Brewer is awesome, but there are also DVDs, Blu-rays, awesome posters, and shirts.