I like movies. So much so that I considered creating a blog just focusing on movie reviews, but that didn’t seem to make sense and have nearly as much of a purpose as BraveNewLove once this idea hit. That said, I do very much believe that movies reflect life and influence culture that does have an impact on us.
I have always been obsessed with movies. As a child of small town Texas who lived down miles of dirt road, ran bare foot, and didn’t have access to the wonders that the internet can bring, I was pretty isolated. The only world that I knew was the one that was around me and I did not have much exposure to anything that was different. Folks were white and Christian. Yes there were hispanic folks in Comanche too, but they were definitely a minority in terms of numbers, and many of them went to the Catholic church. See, everyone and everything had a place, in other words.
Maybe it was a subconscious understanding of the ‘sameness’ of the world as I was seeing it (doubtful, but happy to try to give myself credit), or the inner feeling that came from deep inside me that told me that I didn’t belong - ‘One of these things is not like the others…” - that created the interest and curiosity in what was beyond. Movies delivered that - in so many ways.
I think in reality the thing that I was obsessed with were stories. Specifically the stories about other people who’s life experience was different than what I knew. I don’t know whether I was looking for a story that I could identify with - to give me hope that there was something more out there - or if I was searching for confirmation and proof that what I knew was truly all there was. No matter the reason, I found it in movies. Books definitely offered stories as well, and I was a pretty avid reader when I was younger - I sure wish that would come back - but with books, I knew that I was in complete control of the visuals, the sounds, the emotions. I created the world ultimately in the end even if it was informed by the writer.
Movies though - they invited complete strangers into my home. I could look at them for hours without them knowing, studying the way they presented themselves to the world, interacted with one another, and lived their lives. I would note the type of men that I felt like I should be more like, the ones that I needed to be less like, and the ones that I had feelings about that I didn’t quite understand. I would focus on women and try to imagine myself married to one of them one day, or note the ones that I wish I could be so that I could have been close to those guys I wasn’t quite sure about.
It is very true that all of those people that I felt were so real, were just characters. They were created by a writer, brought to life by an actor, and benefited from the input of multiple other behind the scenes folks, but I didn’t know that back then. To me, they were real and in many ways, they were my only hope. So I watched, and still continue to watch, many movies.
I recently saw the movie, Hustlers, and really liked it. In all honestly, it was an emotional experience that included laughing so loud that I thought I was disturbing others around me, and also multiple crying sessions. Now, if you ask anyone who knows me well, they will tell you that crying in a movie is just another Tuesday night for me. In fact, I can usually tell you how many times I have cried in a film: Inside Out: 5, Won’t You Be My Neighbor: 4, The Grinch: 2 (yes - that one surprised me to).
Get the picture? I’m a big cry baby, and I have come to love it in the last few years. I feel so blessed to be able to tap into emotions through this art form. They certainly continue to help me learn more about myself just like I used them to learn about the world when I was so much younger.
This all said, while crying is a normal occurrence for me with movies, the emotions and tears associated with Hustlers really caught me off guard. They didn’t sit well and felt much darker and dirtier than the emotions that typically come up for me. After sitting with them for a while, I’ve decided that it would be worth writing about.
That’s right folks - this is Brave New Love’s first movie review! It’s not going to be your typical review though because while yes - I would love for you to get a sense of whether you would like to see the movie - I’ll be focusing more on the themes of the film and how that plays into creating space to live authentically.
This movie doesn’t really have “spoilers” in my opinion. If you see the trailer, I think you could come up with how it plays out more or less. It’s not a comic book movie and it is inspired by a true story so you could easily just read the article that the movie is based on to find out what happened.
However, I very much respect the desire to want to go into a movie without knowing the specifics. I’m usually in that camp myself because I don’t want the emotions of others to color my experience. In order to honor that, I’m separating the discussion with the first being for anyone that just wants a general overview, high level thoughts, and nothing really specific about the film, and the second being for people who have seen the movie or just don’t care.
So let’s get this review a cookin’ and talk about why I think that Hustlers is one of the best movies of the year.
Hustlers is a new movie released on 9/12/19 that stars Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Lili Reinhardt, Keke Palmer, Julia Styles, Cardi B, and Lizzo and is inspired by true events.
Here's the trailer if you want to give it a watch:
The film follows Destiny (played by Constance Wu) as she begins working as a stripper in order to make ends meet and take care of her grandmother while living in New York City in 2007. Destiny meets Romana (Jeniffer Lopez), the club’s top earning stripper, who shows her the ropes (poles?), and how to get the most out of the wealthiest of the wall street clientele that frequents the club. Unfortunately, the economic collapse in 2008 leaves the girls with little to no profits, but our stars rally and come up with an aggressive plan to get their lives back and provide for themselves.
To begin, Jennifer Lopez’s performance as Romana steals the movie which is saying a lot given how many strong and likable personalities are in this film. Y’all - Jenny is BACK from the block and I didn’t realize how much I missed her. She definitely leveraged her ability to perform live in order to deliver two amazing stripping sequences, one of which was a full number that I believe will be a stand out as an iconic scene in film for some time. It is worth the price of admission alone in my opinion. In addition to that aspect of her performance, she brought an amazing amount of emotion, heart, and depth to the character of Romana that had me pulling for her in many parts of the movie. I would say that her character is one of the most successful in displaying that these woman were good people - gasp! - as well as strippers - capable of loving and protecting those they love. I’ll get more into that in the second half of the review.
The other performances were great with every actress successfully creating a unique and interesting character - no matter the screen time. Be forewarned that folks like Cardi B and Lizzo are not the focus of the film and are mainly in the first act. That said, if you are a fan of either - the scenes they are in are also worth the price of admission with Cardi B specifically delivering some of the film’s funniest lines and moments. That woman needs to be in more movies ASAP. I’ll discuss more about Constance Wu’s character, Destiny, in the second half as she was someone that I strongly identified with for a couple reasons.
The movie is fantastic at creating the illusion of being in a strip club and I would say that everything from the song choices to costuming added depth to the story by perfectly capturing how it felt to be in the night life scene during that time. It definitely earned its R rating for nudity by our current standards (more on that in the second half) with topless ladies and a very brief male full frontal, and you really feel like you were leaving a strip club when it is all said and done. That is what makes it so great.
I have seen some reviews that are warning that the movie is dangerous because it 'glorifies' breaking the law by portraying the ladies who are the main characters in a positive light.
My response to that: BETCH PLEASE!
Wolf of Wall street, Goodfellas, Casino, War Dogs, and Trainspotting are all movies that focus on charismatic lead characters who break laws, but I doubt film critics were cautioning folks to see those movies while they were in theaters. Why? - cause those characters were men.
One viable criticism in my mind on this front is that there are no positive male characters in this film. Like at all. Even a character's boyfriend at one point who seemed like he was going to be a mainstay only lasted a couple scenes before the film no longer focused on him. I didn't check, but I seriously wouldn't be surprised if he was credited as "Destiny's boyfriend," in the credits. This is certainly not ideal as the goal is to have all folks represented in art and cinema, but I don't think that responsibility should rest on the shoulders of one movie alone. I also think that it was crucial for the character development of our leading ladies to NOT view the men in the film as anything more than 'clients,' in order for the movie to successfully make some of its broader points.
While we're on the topic of feminism, I believe this movie does a fantastic job of highlighting bias against women in multiple situations without beating you over the head with it. In fact, I would argue that the movie is expertly crafted and offers commentary on a variety of topics such as wealth inequality, sexuality, and race. It is able to successfully and subtly shine light on these topics by creating compelling and likable characters who are not treated like they are 'other.' I'll elaborate on this a lot more in the second part of this review.
Obviously, I think you should see this movie, but to fully elaborate on why, I’ll need to take a little more off (see what I did there?) in the second half of this post for all the folks who have either seen (or don’t care about knowing what happens in) the film.
I’ll plan on posting Sinner (Pt 2) next Tuesday, and hope you’ll come back and give it a read after you have seen the movie!