I saw a headline about the new film, Hustlers announcing that not even J-Lo could save this joyless movie. Then, I heard that a friend of mine, who I generally think has good taste, saw it and really enjoyed it. That piqued my curiosity and I had to see the film for myself. My opinion landed somewhere between my friend and the newspaper.
Hustlers is based on the New York Magazine article about a group of exotic dancers who start regularly fleecing Wall Street brokers for thousands of dollars apiece. When the story opens, dancers Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) and Destiny (Constance Wu) are able to make a steady, healthy income through dancing at a club in Manhattan. Wall Street big shots come in and spend absurd amounts of money like it means nothing. When the stock market crashes in 2008, however, the dancers at the club find it harder and harder to make an “honest” living, so they decide to run a side scheme in which they drug the men and lure them to the club, where they run up a huge tab on the men’s corporate cards and receive a kickback on the money they bring in. The way they see it, they are taking back some of what Wall Street took from hard working Americans.
Let’s start with what I did not enjoy about this movie. First, it felt about an hour too long, and it was only 110 minutes. I think about a half an hour of setting the stage at the club by showing J-Lo dancing could have been cut and I would have gotten the picture just fine. Second, the story flirts with some interesting commentary about the financial crisis and the lack of real consequences for many of the people who caused it, but it needs more nuance and does not go far enough with the topic. I think one of the more interesting parts of the movie is how Ramona tries to frame their con like she and Destiny are Robin Hood, but the film does not really interrogate her perspective. A lot more could have been done with where she was coming from and the complicated relationship between her and the other women. I would have liked more in the vein of The Big Short and less Striptease.
Third, I am not sure why Julia Stiles is in this project. As the reporter interviewing Destiny, she has so few lines that I kept waiting for something bigger to happen. Maybe there is more of a performance from her on the cutting room floor, but as it stands, they brought in a Golden Globe and Emmy Nominee for a role that is just reaction shots. Finally, the people arguing that Jennifer Lopez should get an Oscar nomination for the film may have watched a different cut than I did. Jennifer Lopez is superhumanly charming and this is one of the stronger performances of her career, but Constance Wu acts circles around her.
Constance Wu is one of the high points of the movie for me. There is a lot of rich material in the story about her past and the dynamic between her and Ramona. Both women are strong, but Destiny is also very vulnerable and her dependence on and affection for Ramona are moving and frustrating. Wu’s performance is wonderful and she and Lopez have great chemistry together, bringing the dynamic vividly to life.
In addition to the strong acting and great female characters, the film features some really fun cultural references, such as a cameo by Usher as himself at the peak of his career and Jennifer Lopez dancing around a car to a Britney Spears song. Overall, however, the production is not as sharp, smart, or fun as it could have been. 3 of 5 stars
Hustlers based on the article by Jessica Pressler and written and directed by Lorene Scafaria. It is rated R for pervasive sexual material, drug content, language and nudity.
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