What happens when a friendship founded on a lie gets too close for there to be any secrets?

Stay Cold Stay Hungry is a film that takes place, for the most part, in New York City. Manny (Stephen Hill), a large soft-spoken African American man, is living at a shelter and is on the verge of homelessness as he tries to rebuild his life after grappling with alcohol abuse. The movie opens with Manny on the phone with what is assumed to be his wife or ex-grilfriend. “Hey, it’s me. Look I know it’s been a really long time since I called, but I just wanted to let you know that I am doing really good… Well for me at least. I love you, the both of you.”

Cut to a close up of Harley (Johnny Marra) waking up from having slept in the grass in a city park.
Thus begins a convergence of these two characters that ultimately amounts to a study of white privilege as it relates to poverty.

The movie starts off as a bit of a crawl. There’s lots of riding the subway, walking through streets, and standing around.  Eventually, a roaming Manny sees a frustrated Harley having a hard time building a tarp tent on the side of a building. He offers to help Harley who is, at first, reluctant but eventually accepting.  Shortly after helping Harley, Manny sits down to rest but soon falls asleep.

The movie then cuts to the next day. Manny and Harley are sitting at a bench together sharing a meal and debating whether or not the horses that draw carriages through Central Park have lives worth envying or pitying.  Harley thinks the horses have it rough because they are in the city and can’t roam free. Manny thinks the horses have a good life because they are fed and have a home.

These kinds of discussions and scenarios continue to play out during the course of the movie.

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Harley tries to glorify poverty, in a sense by barking off rhetoric like “This city is really coming back… It’s like it’s dirtier… grimier.” Manny, on the other hand, has a one-track mind, focused solely on getting his life together.

On the surface their friendship is real but what Manny doesn’t know is that Harley doesn’t actually have to struggle. He has money and resources. He is, for all intents and purposes, a tourist.

As the two get closer, it becomes harder and harder for Harley to hide his secret.

As a whole, the movie does a good job of shining light on the idea of the glorification of struggle and how that glorification is perceived depending on your race and upbringing. It’s something that you see a lot of with kids moving to a new city for college, or teenagers who leave their suburban homes to hop trains across America with a cardboard sign that says “Traveling and Broke” as their only source of income.

Disclosure: Johnny Marra (Harley) is a close friend of mine who asked me to write a review of the movie. Saying yes was a conflict of interest so I feel it necessary that I be critical of the film where it is deserved.

That said, I think this is a movie that could have done in one hour what it did in an hour and a half.  When you watch a movie that has a friend of yours in it, you tend to keep watching even if it feels a bit slow. That was the case for me during the first twenty minutes of the movie. There were also times where the ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement) pulls you out of the scene and the occasional rough cut.

For all my criticism, I still think that Stay Cold Stay Hungry is a movie worth watching. It makes the audience question their own lives, and whether they are more like Manny or Harley.

You’d hope the answer would be obvious but the more you explore the characters and their positions, the less certain you become.

 

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