Hustlers - Movie Review

Lili Reinhart, Jennifer Lopez, Keke Palmer, and Constance Wu star in HUSTLERS
Lili Reinhart, Jennifer Lopez, Keke Palmer, and Constance Wu star in HUSTLERS(Barbara Nitke | Courtesy of STXfilms)
Updated: Oct. 7, 2019 at 1:46 PM EDT
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The story (inspired by real events) of a group of Exotic Dancers who fleece rich (not so smart) businessmen for thousands of dollars seems like an unlikely box office hit, but Hustlers starring Crazy Rich Asians’ Constance Wu and the ever resilient Jennifer Lopez is doing quite well, thank you very much. The film begins in the moneyed surplus era just before the last financial disaster in 2008. Business is booming at Moves, the nightclub where novice Destiny (real name, Dorothy-played by Wu) first meets the queen of the pole, exotic dancer Ramona (Lopez). Destiny lacks confidence and isn’t being treated fairly by the other more seasoned dancers. She is barely making tips and she has to cut them with the house and is being extorted for more money from the bouncer for security. She has little hope of things improving, when she serendipitously runs into Ramona, relaxing and smoking on the rooftop one night. Ramona takes her under wing –literally—as Ramona engulfs her in her gorgeous luxurious fur coat.

Everyone is rolling in money for a while then when Wall Street collapses, so do all the dancers’ careers, or at least their profitable careers. Destiny cannot even get a job in retail, and Ramona actually has to take a job at the Gap (Gasp)! For a while things look bleak, then Ramona concocts a lucrative scam. If Wall Street financers aren’t willing to throw their money around as recklessly as they did before, they could throw their money around, while not knowing it. When Ramona sees Destiny again for the first time in a long time, it becomes clear that she will cut her in; after all she is like a little sister to her and they are both single parents trying to raise children in an expensive city.

Written and directed by Lorraine Scarfaria based on an article in New York magazine written by Jessica Pressler, the film definitely captures the cult of male desire that not only fuels the exotic dancing industry but also taints it at the same time. Scarfaria has a very good eye, and her colorful urban landscape glitters; the women go shopping and buy expensive shoes or when Ramona is showered with money, literally after a stunning dance performance. However she relies on slow motion effect too much and the middle part of the film is slow, and I was confused by the chronology, events and time lapses that I couldn’t follow. Whose house is this again? Scarfaria certainly understands her characters and their plight and the best scenes are when she lets us into these hard working women’s world. It’s also clear what side of the moral compass she is on regarding strippers turning the tables on rich lecherous men. In her defense, none of the real women did any time, so perhaps the judicial system felt the same way.

Wu certainly shines and proves her versatility, in a character much different than her Crazy Rich Asians character. However, the real revelation here is Jennifer Lopez, who’s past film choices and performances have not always been stellar. She gives the best performance of her career in a long time. She wears the warm, glamorous, sexy, fun, but tough as nails Ramona, like a second skin. Furthermore she looks terrific doing it, defying her age and naysayers. Lopez has always had charisma and audience appeal, but she knocks it out of the park with her work here.

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