Columbia College Chicago alum and director known for the movie Soul Food, George Tillman was honored at the 49th Chicago International Film Festival, just as his latest film, The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete, was hitting local theaters. Another local Chicago “church girl made good” Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls) plays a drug-addicted single mom prostitute in this role, but not as downtrodden as Halle Berry has played in similar roles. Sure, Hudson looks God-awful in the film, and she shoots up in near eye shot of her kid and does unmentionable things in the bathroom stall of a restaurant with a total stranger, but the darker part of this film, for me, was her son, whose name is Mister, having to survive while she does time in jail for drug dealing. Mister’s friend by default is Pete, a tiny Korean boy whose mom also makes a living on the streets, while living in a Brooklyn, New York, public housing project. The boys, with skeletal frames and crusty lips, try to stay one step ahead of the housing police, lest they are carted off to Riverview — not the type of place that older Chicagoans remember as an amusement park.
The movie brings to mind Spike Lee’s Clockers, as there are peripheral characters — one who sits on the park bench and seems mentally challenged or high, and the usual group of loafers and drug dealers, led by an unrecognizable Anthony Mackie. Jeffrey Wright has a role as a homeless vet sleeping in squalor, begging for money.
I suppose Hudson, who plays Gloria in the movie, named her son Mister just in case he couldn’t climb out of his dire straits, but folks would still have to call him Mister. He and Pete (played by Skylan Brooks and Ethan Dizon, respectively) survive the streets by rummaging food and hawking possessions when they can. They have a friend, a former neighbor played by Jordin Sparks, who tries to look out for them during the two months that Hudson is gone. Mister aspires to be an actor and he is good at conning his way and ‘pretending’ in order to get what he wants.
The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete is a gritty, dismal look at poverty and what it can do to families as well as what it can force families—particularly urban kids left to fend for themselves—to do just to eat and stay alive. Sure there are bigger names associated with this movie, but Brooks and Dizon steal the show. The movie screened already at the 49th Chicago International Film Festival, but it is showing at local theaters throughout the country.