FIRST OF ALL: I just have to say that I am A HILARIOUS GENIUS for pairing these two movies together because they're actually both incredibly similar and serve as iconic time capsules for their respective eras. They both have a LOT going for them, so this is going to be another really hard (and sad) bracket to break down. WHY DO I DO THIS TO MYSELF?
A League of Their Own (1992)
Directed by: Penny Marshall
Written by: Kim Wilson, Kelly Candaele, Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel
Starring: Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Madonna, Rosie O'Donnell
IMDB Synopsis: Two sisters join the first female professional baseball league and struggle to help it succeed amidst their own growing rivalry.
"I have a strange combination of fearlessness and massive insecurity."
So I don't even know how this is possible, but I have SOMEHOW NEVER SEEN THIS MOVIE?! It was SO good! I don't even know where to begin! Just kidding, I do:
1) LORI FUCKING PETTY!!!!!!!!! If you know anything about me at all, it should be that I FUCKING LOVE TANK GIRL. So yeah, I lost my shit when I found out she was the HEART AND SOUL OF THIS MOVIE. I get why they had to put Geena Davis and Madonna on the poster, but come on! It's Tank Girl!!!!
2) Rosie O'Donnell and Madonna being HILARIOUS!!! And surprisingly sex-positive for '92??
3) ...Like that moment when Madonna goes to church and blows the priest's goddamn mind! 😂
4) Geena Davis being a straight up BDE BABE, including her palpable sexual tension with Tom Hanks (which I wanted more of! Leave Bill Pullman! Play baseball forever! Marry your drunk coach! Wow I'm projecting here!)
5) DRUNK TOM HANKS!??!?! HAHAHA!!! Why has he never played a character like this again??? He is SO GOOD AT IT!!! I know I'm supposed to be focusing on the ladies and feminism of it all, but TOM HANKS STOLE MY HEART AND THE SHOW.
This movie was truly very well made. It managed to utilize all of the expected and familiar sports movie tropes, while still managing to feel fresh, funny, and relevant (even now!). It occasionally drifted into the territory of early-90s over fraught sentimentality, but it's hard not to when you're making a movie about a real event and those events happen to be sentimental. I loved that each of the women - even the more minor characters - were fully formed and believable and lovable; they were feminine and awkward and promiscuous and loud and brash and they felt like real women. And yeah, I loved that the little sister got to win (BECAUSE YOU NEVER SEE THAT! Can you tell I'm a little sister?).
Written & Directed by: Lorene Scafaria
Starring: Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart
IMDB Synopsis: Inspired by the viral New York Magazine article, Hustlers follows a crew of savvy former strip club employees who band together to turn the tables on their Wall Street clients.
"That was part of the beauty of making this movie. I was excited to look at these women close up — from the neck up — and in ways that maybe we aren’t used to looking at them."
If I had one complaint, it would be with some of the writing. There were a few lines that were just a little too contrived, and the relationship between Constance Wu and the journalist (Julia Stiles) became a little awkward as the plot moved forward. Wu keeps interrupting herself to say things like, "I shouldn't even be telling you this! You're going to perpetuate the stigma that strippers face every day! I'm not gonna say one more thing." Then Stiles would blink and Wu would be like "You're right never mind where was I..."
I get that the whole plot was centered around Wu's flashbacks while she was reiterating them to the journalist and therefore had no choice but to keep talking to her/ the audience, but methinks the lady doth protest too much. Scarafia kind of wrote herself into a corner on that one.
But besides that? This movie hit a lot of key points. Scarafia managed to create the Big Dick Energy of vintage Scorcese at his best, with the fur coats and the diamonds and the hookers and the blow - but this time it's from the hooker's point of view.
I was paying very close attention, and I believe there is only one moment where you ever see just a close-up part of a woman's body onscreen. Scarafia was meticulous when it came to training the audience's eye: you never forgot that these bodies were attached to faces, that these women were people too. Unlike every salacious music video I ever saw growing up in the 90's, it was impossible to objectify these characters as mere disembodied parts.
Also... JENNIFER FREAKING LOPEZ IS FIFTY AMERICAN YEARS OLD and her pole-dancing scenes (there are exactly 2 of them) must not be undermined as simple eye candy or gratuitous T & A: they are remarkable, astounding, Olympic feats of strength and grace. Is it sexy? Of course it fucking is, it's a pole dance routine! It's supposed to be. But this is the Anti-Slut-Shame Movie of the Year, and you never forget who's in charge. Her body, her choice, y'all:
And the winner is...
I'll tell you what, these sure aren't getting any easier. A League of Their Own is a timeless classic and it is so, so good. And Hustlers might not stand the test of time as an iconic movie I want to show my nieces someday, but it started a conversation about The Female Gaze (and contributed to the vital one about sex-positivity) that I think we will begin to see more and more of as long as we keep putting women behind the camera. Marshall paved the way for it, and filmmakers like Scarafia will just keep taking it further and making it bigger.