Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Hustlers (2019)

Image is property of STX Films and Gloria Sanchez Productions

Hustlers  – Film Review

Cast:  Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Lizzo

Director: Lorene Scafaria

Synopsis: When business at their strip club starts to diminish, a group of the club’s employees devise a scheme to turn the tables on the wealthy clientele that frequent their establishment…

Review: In the wake of the #MeToo movement that shook Hollywood to its core, it seems timely, one could argue even necessary, for more films to be made that feature women front and centre. Films that feature women in empowering situations, not being beholden to any men, and firmly in control of their own destinies. Furthermore, for a film that features women in a line of work that a debate could rage all day and all night about whether said line of work is objectification, or empowerment. In this case, it is absolutely, unequivocally the latter.

Destiny (Wu) is a young woman, who with people she needs to take care of, finds herself struggling to earn a decent living whilst working in a strip club. This is until she meets the confident Ramona (Lopez), who soon takes Destiny under her wing. Under Ramona’s tutelage, Destiny learns how to make more money for herself while she’s on the job. Things start off well, but when the establishment’s customers (and by consequence the money) start to diminish, these women take matters into their own hands to make their living and provide for those they care about. In doing so, they may just manipulate some wealthy individuals along the way.

Right from the very first moment she’s introduced, you know straight away that Ramona is Queen Bee (no, not that one) of this establishment, and our central group of women. Lopez possesses such a commanding on screen presence, and it helps her to own every minute of screen time that she has, delivering arguably her best ever performance. Destiny is at first a little unsure of herself but under Ramona’s tutelage she absolutely comes into her own Ramona, and Constance Wu turns in a solid performance. Though other ladies (Keke Palmer and Lili Reinhart) become part of the titular hustle, the film’s focus is squarely on Ramona and Destiny, and the sweet and sincere friendship that they have. Their chemistry is the glue that binds the whole film together.

Lorene Scafaria’s direction is confident and assured. Given the profession of these women, a choice could definitely have been made under a different to director to overly sexualise them. Thankfully, Scafaria is having none of that, simply because such a decision would be completely unnecessary. She chooses to structure the film with various cuts back and forth between the events of the hustle, and a journalist (Stiles) who’s interviewing the key players for an article that she’s writing about the hustle. While this choice could hamper the film’s flow, the screenplay is sharp and stylish enough to ensure, and the excellent editing ensures that the sharp pace of the film never waivers. The first half of the film takes its time, as it is the calm before the storm, of the hustle. Whereas the second half is relentlessly exciting as the events of the hustle play out, as well as the immediate aftermath.

The film doesn’t exactly paint these women as heroes, because what they are doing is, simply put, not legal. On the other hand, it refuses to completely vilify them. It makes you see where they are coming from and why they are targeting these well-off clients. Quite a few humorous moments are interjected throughout, mainly courtesy of Lili Reinhart’s Annabelle. However, though there may be upsides, it’s not going to be all fun, and games and shopping sprees. There will also likely be drama, and above all, there will be consequences, for the hustlers, and for the people caught up in it all.

With a career best performance from Lopez, and a sharp as a stiletto screenplay, Hustlers combines a gripping and dramatic story, whilst celebrating female empowerment in a respectful manner.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

Image is property of Warner Bros. Pictures and Color Force

Crazy Rich Asians – Film Review

Cast: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan, Awkwafina, Ken Jeong

Director: Jon M. Chu

Synopsis: When an American woman is invited by her boyfriend to visit his family in Singapore ahead of his best friend’s wedding. Upon arrival, she soon realises that his family are insanely rich…

Review: Like almost any genre, the romantic comedy one is one that can provide audiences with films that tend to retread familiar tropes and don’t seek to bring something new to the market. Therefore when something does manage to be a delight breath of fresh air into the genre, it is undeniably wonderful to see. In recent years, two such films have met that criteria, namely last year’s The Big Sick and now, Crazy Rich Asians, have proved themselves to be massive hits that also break significant ground, the latter of which especially so since it is the first big budget Hollywood production to feature an all Asian cast in a quarter of a century.

At the centre of this romance is Rachel Chu (Wu) who is an Economics Professor at New York University. She has dated her boyfriend and fellow NYU Professor Nick Young (Golding) for around a year. Things get interesting for her when he invites her to Singapore to visit his family, ahead of the wedding of his best friend.  What Rachel doesn’t know, and soon begins to fully comprehend, is just how wealthy Nick’s family is. This starts to put a strain on their relationship, particularly when she meets his family and they seem to have their doubts about whether Rachel is the right match for him. It is a very familiar set up for a rom-com story, but the with their extravagant wealth that they possess, it puts the genre in some uncharted territory.

As the main couple in this story, Constance Wu and Henry Golding both excel as Rachel and Nick respectively. There is genuine chemistry between the two and perhaps the most key ingredient of any rom-com is you want these two to make it work. However, of course, that isn’t going to be easy as Nick’s uber rich family pose a few problems, in that Nick’s mother especially (an equally excellent Michelle Yeoh) does not view Rachel as being wholly suitable to become a part of their family. Given how one member just casually splashes around a million dollars on a pair of earrings like it’s mere loose change, which to them, it probably is.

There are a lot of characters at play here, but there are some notably memorable turns from Awkwafina as Rachel’s best friend at college, Goh Peik Lin and Ken Jeong as her wacky but extremely entertaining father. With such a large cast though there is always a risk that some cast members are under-utilised, and Gemma Chan’s Astrid, sister to Nick, is one such character who could have done with a lot more screen time as there is a plot with her own family life that could have benefited from being fleshed out a bit more. Nevertheless the screenplay adapted by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim manages to weave the family drama and the romance together tremendously well.

Where this film really shines is its visual splendour. The costumes on display here are very bright and colourful, and they perfectly illustrate the remarkable wealth that these people possess. The excellent production design also helps to really hit that point home, particularly when we get to the rather lavish wedding ceremony, one that would certainly give any member of any royal family around the world a run for their money. This is a very different film for director Jon M Chu, and while there are certain familiarities with rom coms of the past, he gives the movie a fresh vibe to it. It is somewhat surprising how it has been so long for a major Hollywood film to feature an all Asian cast, but with the success this film has had, more studios will hopefully soon follow suit.

Boasting some extremely resplendent production design, coupled with an extremely heart-warming tale that manages to breathe new life into the rom-com genre, whilst also being a landmark achievement for representation in Hollywood.