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This Hustlers review is about JLo’s 2020 Best Actress Oscar.

I love an anti-hero. I love roles written for women in full control of their sexuality despite the circumstances. I love a movie led by women of color. And I love Jennifer Lopez having her Erin Brockovich moment. Hustlers really is the movie to see this season.

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Jennifer Lopez is going to be nominated for an Oscar and that’s all I want to talk about for the rest of the year.

For awhile there in the late 90s/early 00s, it seemed as if a woman couldn’t win a Best Actress Oscar unless she disguised her beauty somehow. Hillary Swank dropped down to 7% bodyfat and cut all her hair off to play a trans man. Halle Berry filmed the world’s most awkwardly drunk sex scene for her Oscar. Nicole Kidman wore a prosthetic nose and a dry wig as Virginia Woolfe. Charlize Theron was 30 pounds heavier with bad skin and fake teeth in Monster. The only exception to that run was Julia Roberts as Erin Brockovich, and coincidentally enough, Jennifer Lopez as Ramona in Hustlers has been compared to that performance.

I’ll be honest: It’s not very popular to be a Jennifer Lopez fan in many of the Black Internet Circles I participate in, largely because she’s a mediocre singer who has built a recording career from discarded or outright stolen tracks from Black women. I get it, I understand it, and I don’t wholly disagree with it, but that’s a conversation for another day.

I’m a fan of the Pop Culture Icon that is Jennifer Lopez. I love that this woman from the Bronx who is not outstanding at any one component of her persona has managed to stay this famous for this long with this much support. There are far better singers than JLo. Far better dancers. Far better actresses. And for all the praise her ass has gotten, there are far better butts. But there really is no better package for all of that than JLo and I’m impressed by people who can succeed based on the strength of their drive, work ethic, and personality. (Yes she’s beautiful with a big budget corporate machine behind her, but there are lots of women who are also beautiful with those same machines trying to push them and they never hit the level that Jennifer Lopez has even once, let alone over and over for twenty years.)

That’s a long lead in for a movie review, but I just want y’all to understand where I was coming from when I went to see Hustlers. I heard the “Oscar buzz” but not even the biggest fan in me would ever put “Jennifer Lopez” and “Academy Award” in the same breath because I know what I’m getting with her — average, yet entertaining.

Nothing about Jennifer Lopez is average in this movie. She doesn’t have a Viola Davis Crying Scene or an Angela Bassett Monologue because that’s not what this movie is and that’s not the actress she is. What she does have is complete authenticity. I believed she was a 35-year-old stripper (at 50!) from New York disgusted with Wall Street and scamming her way to a better life for her and her daughter. I believed she loved Destiny (Constance Wu) like a daughter, so much so that I teared up during the emotional climax. JLo made me almost cry. Jennifer Lopez was emoting through her acting to the point where I had tears in my eyes.

You could still, at this point, knock me over with a feather from that realization.

But alongside that, I want Jennifer Lopez to get an Oscar nomination because she did this.

At one point, JLo wore a silver bathing suit with a 2 inch strip of silver fabric covering her hoohah in a luxurious fur coat smoking a cigar in 8 inch heels with complete ease and not a hint of discomfort. Whereas Hollywood has no problem rewarding beautiful women for getting “ugly” for a “serious” role, there’s really no space for women who go the other route. JLo — unarguably a very beautiful woman — went even further with just six weeks to prepare for this role. There is no other actress in Hollywood who could have been Ramona, let alone a 50 year old mother of twins. Please name a single A-list actress who would have been comfortable in dental floss and bending over for the camera without a hint of self-consciousness. Jennifer Lopez has worked hard at being beautiful. Money and genes help obviously, but for all the praise we heap on women (and men) who change their bodies to be less attractive for their award-winning performances, we should also look at the other side and give props where props are due.

I want to make this plain, because I know the Internet is full of people who half-read and then throw loud opinions back: I’m not saying Jennifer Lopez deserves accolades because she’s beautiful. I’m saying Jennifer Lopez put in a spectacular acting performance (the way Charlize Theron does) while also embodying the role to a level of extreme physicality which is far outside the norm (the way Charlize Theron does) and she should be acknowledged for that the same way we would praise her had she gained 30 pounds and made her self UNattractive (the way Charlize Theron does).

And you can tell this movie was directed by a woman. Martin Scorcese passed on it and thank goddess he did because it would have been great, but it would have been grey. And serious. And sad. It would have been a crime movie about stripping. Instead, in Lorene Scafaria’s deft hands, we got a movie that is full of heart and emotion. It’s a family drama (a family of their own making) about women who happen to be strippers. It’s a movie where you root for the bad guys, but the bad guys are in bikinis and raising daughters instead of leather jackets and speeding away in cars.

I love an anti-hero. I love roles written for women in full control of their sexuality despite the circumstances. I love a movie led by women of color. And I love Jennifer Lopez having her Erin Brockovich moment. Hustlers really is the movie to see this season.

Other Hot Takes:

Cardi B. is magnetic. For all y’all who said she wasn’t in the trailer because she must have sucked in the movie…you could not be more wrong. And I’m very much looking forward to seeing more of Belcalis on the big screen (as long as she’s playing a round-the-way girl from the Bronx because that accent ain’t goin NOWHERE anytime soon).

THREE JANET JACKSON SONGS! Give them a Best Picture nomination just for that.

Lorene deserves a writing nomination for adapted screenplay and a directing nomination. She hit all the correct notes. It never dragged. Never moved too fast. Her pacing is fantastic and for a movie about strippers, it never felt exploitative (I’m never watching another movie with boobs in it unless it’s directed by a woman). ((I definitely just lied about that, but y’all feel the sentiment.))

When y’all say movies are too white, they aren’t suddenly multi-cultural just because there’s a Black lead. America is a melting pot. It’s not just white or Black. Hustlers is truly a multicultural cast. It stars four women: one Latina, one East Asian, one Black, and one white. That’s the Hollywood I want to see.

There are no men in this movie who matter. It’s really refreshing.

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Hot Takes: Soul

Soul made me feel better about my life, and that’s a big task for a kids’ movie.

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*** There are no spoilers about the overall plot of the movie, as in, I’m not giving away what happens to the main characters, but there are spoilers about certain aspects of the movie, because I couldn’t do hot takes without questioning some of the decisions that were made along the way.

1) A lot of Black people worked on this movie. I haven’t looked it up, but I just know they did because the hair in this movie is the best animated depiction of our textures I have ever seen!!! And the conversational beats are right. You cannot get that rhythm of a Black barbershop or that cadence of two old Black women chatting unless you are intimately familiar with the culture. Good job!

2) Props to Pixar for making Dortohea Williams a boss saxophone player as opposed to the usual Black Female Singer fronting a band. I hope more little Black girls pick up the saxophone…as opposed to the clarinet. Also, gotta mention the little girl who was a boss on the trombone. I’ve only met one female trombone player in my entire life, and I love that.

3) While we’re on gender…if you open the door for a conversation, you have to handle that conversation correctly. The world-building sets up the point, very clearly, that these souls have no gender, and yet 22 is “she” when they talk about them. It’s not something to hate the movie for, but it’s something to think about, because we are having these conversations with non-binary people about ways to make the public more receptive to they/them pronouns, and this was one of the only perfect instances I’ve ever seen in media, but Pixar dropped the ball. 22 is explicitly stated to be genderless, so why gender them? You could argue that 22 picked a white woman’s voice so she/her “makes sense” but voices have no gender, 22 can do many voices, and we don’t know who 22 will actually be once they’re born. There are far more reasons to use they/them which outweigh the one debatable reason to use she/her.

4) While we’re on opening the door…I understand the comedic effect of giving 22 a middle-aged white woman voice, a Karen if you will. They went for the slight wink-nudge-takedown because we’re in the middle of the White Women are Annoying zeitgeist and they decided to ride that wave. However, there was literally one moment of payoff, a set up for one joke, but we spend the rest of the movie with that white woman’s voice coming out of a Black man’s mouth. It didn’t make me hate the movie, but it just irked me a little because none of the plot would have been lost by having that voice be a young boy or an old Black woman or simply not pointing out that 22 has the voice of a 40-year-old white woman. It’s like Get Out, the animated version. I don’t really need a white woman riding around inside of a Black man for a whole movie.

5) Nothing I love about the movie is negated by the last two points I made, but they were casting and story decisions I wish hadn’t been made. Those two decisions don’t progress or affect the plot in any way while unnecessarily pulling you out of the movie to wonder why they went the path of least consideration as opposed to taking the more thoughtful, responsible route.

6) The little unborn souls are cute. Pixar never fails to make young tiny things adorable.

7) I love everything about the plot. I absolutely love the double-sided nature of The Zone, where such a thin line separates passion and obsession. I love what Soul has to say about purpose and life. I love the idea that a lot of our personality traits are baked in from birth, because I have literally been grumpy my entire life. I’m always teetering on the edge of Emotional Calamity, and Soul is that rare movie that made me breathe and feel better about everything. The flashbacks Joe saw of his life when we first meet 22 — the mundane, the rejection, the lack of fulfillment — is how I typically see my life.  The flashbacks Joe saw of his life when he was playing piano — the people he touched, the joys he experienced, the lasting impact he made — is how I never look at my life, but how I’m going to try looking at my life going forward.

8) Cast Phylicia Rashad and Angela Bassett in more animated films. I can recognize their respective voices anywhere and they instantly elevate any project.

Score: 8/10 

 

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Hot Takes: Jingle Jangle

I can’t think of a movie with a thinner plot than this one that I still enjoyed.

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1) This will be a holiday classic in my home for the rest of my life. A Black cast in fantastic costumes with fantastic hair inventing things and reveling in the joy of Christmas? A holiday classic!!

2) Buddy looks like ET and Wall-E had a baby.

3) We have to talk about the hair. For me, Black Panther is the gold standard for Black hairstyles in a movie. So much care and research went into presenting a wide range of natural styles for our textures. Jingle Jangle tackles it in a Victorianesque setting, where all of the actors are wearing their natural textures, but creatively styled into updos that would fit into the time period and it is stunning. Not a pressing comb in sight! We have no choice but to stan.

4) Ricky Martin’s character is fun. And wholly unnecessary. But fun.

5) Forrest Whitaker cannot sing. There was no need to cast Forrest Whitaker. I understand wanting to throw some high profile names into a movie, especially when it’s a Black movie with a large budget, but nobody who tunes into Jingle Jangle said “let me see this Christmas movie because Forrest Whitaker is in it.” I literally turned it on because it was a Black Christmas movie, period.

6) Lisa Davina Phillip who plays Ms. Johnston is hilarious and I fully understand why she was cast even though they had her lip sync to another singing voice. I don’t understand why they didn’t have Forrest lip sync as well.

7) Anika Noni Rose CAN sing and to put one of the preeminent actress/singers in the business in a musical and give her ONE big song that partly duets with Forrest Whitaker? Electric Chair! Forrest can hold a tune, and his lack of ability can be ignored when he’s singing alone, but they put him in a duet with Anika Noni Rose! Whose idea was that?!

8) The opening number is very The Greatest Showman in the best way. I’m bout to learn every word.

9) Holiday feelings aside, I also have to give some props to the plot for highlighting girls in STEM. Black girls in STEM. Let’s get more movies with little Black girls excelling in math and engineering. You love to see it!

10) I can’t think of a movie with a thinner plot than this one that I still enjoyed. You could’ve told this movie in about 7 minutes. But the music is delightful and the choreography was so much fun (y’all, they had a lil white girl hittin that gwara gwara and I was laid OUT!).

Score: 7/10

 

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Hot Takes: Bad Hair

Kelly Rowland almost makes this movie worth the effort. Almost.

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1) This ONE movie is trying to take on gentrification, workplace microaggressions, white corporate structure relying on Black talent, New Jack Swing, sexism, witches, colonialism, native folklore, and hair. If “biting off more than you can chew” was a moviemaker it’s Justin Simien.

2) The best hairstyle in the movie is Edna’s sisterlocks and I needed somebody to point that out.

3) Actually, for a movie called Bad Hair there isn’t a whole lot of talk about what makes hair bad or good. If a white person was watching this movie, and let’s be honest, Justin Simien definitely makes his projects with a white audience in mind, their only understanding of hair dynamics is “get a weave to get a promotion.” Spike Lee’s “Straight and Nappy” from School Daze does in less than ten minutes what Justin should have done in two hours.

4) Blair Underwood has been fine forever.

5) The lead actress, Elle Lorraine, is an obvious talent and I’m looking forward to seeing what she does next. I don’t think it should be horror, because the last act of the movie was squarely outside of her wheelhouse, but I’ll watch her in any family drama or quirky rom-com.

6) Vanessa Williams’s Wilhelmina Slater is one of the all time great Office Villains. Bad Hair needed way more of that and way less of whatever they told Vanessa to do here.

7) Is Virgie getting some kind of kickback from the evil hair harvesters for using their weaves? She has to know what she’s sewing in those folks’ heads but she didn’t make it — she’s getting that hair from a white man (which is the most unreasonable plot point in the whole move because I don’t know any Black salon getting their weaves sourced by a straight white man with a farm.)

8) As a monster movie, it’s not scary enough. As a satire, it’s not smart enough to fully capitalize on the story it’s set up. As a comedy, it’s not funny enough, and it takes itself way too seriously to be camp, so I’m not sure Bad Hair actually succeeds anywhere other than the soundtrack.

9) Kelly Rowland as a knock-off Janet Jackson is the gift I didn’t know I needed!! “I Get It” is going on both my 2020 hits playlist AND my New Jack Swing playlist. Since Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It” in 1995, only one other person has managed to capture the sound of New Jack Swing, and that was Bruno Mars with “Finesse.” And now Kelly Rowland with “I Get It.”

10) There’s a good story here about how hair has been used to oppress Black women and the lengths some have gone through to achieve a certain look. Justin isn’t the person to tell that story though and I’m not sure if the movie ultimately makes a mockery of the struggle or if it’s just a mediocre monster movie.

Score: 5/10

 

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