Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Lorene Scafaria
Screenwriter: Lorene Scafaria
Cast: Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Lizzo, Cardi B
Screened at: Lincoln Square, NYC, 9/10/19
Opens: Sept. 13, 2019
Based on Jessica Pressler’s 7,237-word article in New York magazine December 8, 2015, “Hustlers” deals with young women who work in strip clubs, which generally means that they do pole dancing and for extra money they perform lap dancers on the men who attend. Whether they all go further with the guys after closing time is not discussed, as writer-director Lorene Scafaria wants us to think that these “girls” are not dime-store street hustlers but are regular women who need the money to support their grannies, their children, college tuition and the like. They may have tried their hand working in retail stores at nine dollars and hour, so you can see how they can greatly increase their income with the bills that the mail clients throw at the stage or put inside the workers’ skimpy clothing, or the Benjamins that come out for the more private sessions. In fact these women are not exploited by their customers, since after all they make a good living dancing for them, but the real tawdriness comes from the bosses at the clubs that they have to cut in on their income.
“Hustlers” takes as its theme something said toward the conclusion of the movie by Ramona Vega (Jennifer Lopez) that “the whole country is a hustle,” a critical view that is more likely akin to left-leaning political philosophy, the liberals, the Marxists, the students at elite colleges presumably blaming others for being on the make. The livelier segment of “Hustlers” takes place during the first half, the second part reserved to provide the girls with a sounding board on what they think of their trade, of their customers and their bosses, even reserving some contempt for their employers in retail stores where they can barely make ends meet.
The most involving part shows Ramona, an experienced pole dancer, taking the innocent Destiny (Constance Wu) under her wing, teaching the shy newcomer the tricks of dancing, and in doing so giving the movie audience the treat of some classic “steps” that you would hardly think possible from a fifty-year-old actress. The entire story is framed by Elizabeth (Julia Stiles), a journalist taping testimony from Ramona and Destiny about the activities that went from just doing their jobs on to grand larceny, the progression that might make us think that they are getting revenge on the Wall Street crowd that fills the seats at the club. I’m not sure that the showgirls want revenge for the role of executives in the 2008 collapse of the American economy, since banks, working with the funds, had shred the economy with their shady manipulations leading to the closing of the club. The women proceed to haunt the bars that accommodated these rich guys, both young and adult, acting as a team by making each targeted man believe it’s his charm that arouses the cuddly affection of four or five women.
In reality, though, they would spike the drinks with MDMA and ketamine, which both wiped out their memory of the nightly events and put customers into semi-comatose conditions. They would take the credit cards and sometimes had the dazed marks sign credit slips, then going on to simply taking the cards and charging up to $50,000 per man, getting the transactions approved, and sending the money to a corporation they set up. They would then proceed to buy fur coats and the like, and to show the movie audience that they are not that bad, we find that they are supporting families including one grandma.
There’s little question that Jennifer Lopez turns in a spectacular performance, maybe even her best so far, as a tough, experienced woman who acts as mentor to Constance Wu’s Destiny. We men may look at women performing in strip clubs as obviously attractive and capable of knocking some impressive splits in their miniscule clothing, but they really are human like you and me, capable of maintaining friendship and providing conversations just like any other working stiffs. In the lead role, Constance Wu’s Destiny does not have even a high-school diploma though she has passed the so-called equivalent, which would have made her eligible to any number of civil service jobs. Their customers, hustlers just like them, are rich white guys (strangely nobody of color shows up to patronize the shows,) can be seen as exploiting the less-educated women and you’re free to think that, though remember the handsome income that these men provide to women who would more likely be cashiers in CVS making minimum wage.
The pop songs are many, running through the soundtrack, the production values emphasizing the darkness in the clubs and the brightness of the digs that the conniving women can now afford are spot-on. Yet the proceedings can become awfully repetitious, and while the jokes are there, there is not enough here to call “Hustlers” a comedy, nor is the drama deep enough to be insightful.
109 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – C
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B-