Hustlers

Review by Charles Bramesco @intothecrevasse

Directed by

Lorene Scafaria

Starring

Constance Wu Jennifer Lopez Julia Stiles

Anticipation.

J Lo’s recent output hasn’t always been stellar, but she’s J Lo, so…

Enjoyment.

A fun night out that won’t cost you $15,000.

In Retrospect.

As all good strippers know, you leave ‘em wanting more.

Jennifer Lopez reminds the world of her white hot star wattage in this lapdancing Robin Hood caper film.

For whatever reason, the laws of physics do not apply to Jennifer Lopez. She spends much of Hustlers, writer-director Lorene Scafaria’s new Goodfellas-in-G-strings crime picture, in brash defiance of what scientists currently understand about gravity. That goes for her stallionesque body, a graven image for the worshipful camera to cower before, seemingly only tauter and stronger after fifty years.

Same for her moves as stripper queen Ramona Vega, each knee hook and tabletop twirl a seeming act of levitation. But that’s also true of her in a more holistic sense, as Lopez commands the screen by being her confidence-exuding Jenny-from-the-block self, so superhumanly charismatic that she may as well be hovering a few inches above the ground.

Though she owns every minute of her screen time, Lopez plays second lead to Constance Wu, starring as new girl at the club Dorothy (taking the nom de pole Destiny). Together, they concoct a scheme to drug and fleece Wall Street dirtbags for thousands a pop after the financial crash of 2008 leaves the lapdance industry hurting.

Flash-forwards frame the small crime ring’s whirlwind rise and fall, showing the reporter (Julia Stiles) who penned the New York Magazine article on which the film is based interviewing Dorothy years later. These conversations give Scafaria’s script ample opportunity to comment and editorialise on the account of events, mostly in a transparent mouthpiece-of-the-author capacity, as when Dorothy bluntly states that she doesn’t want this story to come off as demonising her coworkers as perfidious thieves.

Setting aside Scafaria’s tendency to show and then tell for good measure — the final line spells out the meaning of the film in gigantic neon cursive — her commentary on the messy intersection of capitalist hunger with the sheen of feminine empowerment rings brutally true. At first, the women’s scams could be considered a form of hands-on wealth redistribution, as they move excess sums away from people who don’t need them to people who do — they just so happen to qualify.

Ramona memorably describes motherhood as a mental disease, but the real brain-warper would be the money, which slowly but surely corrupts whatever righteous basis Dorothy, Ramona, and their apprentices (Keke Palmer and a scene-stealing, anxious-vomiting Lili Reinhart) could’ve argued that they had. It’s not long before they’re ripping off men who lose everything instead of men lose little more than a night’s sleep. Corporations have made millions perverting feminist messaging in order to sell slogan-emblazoned crap; this story shrinks that process to an intimate person-to-person scale.

That critical undercurrent harmoniously coexists with a self-imposed mandate to keep things lively and moving, with which the energetic cast has no trouble. Cardi B does some light prop comedy with a vibrator, Madeline Brewer gets some of the choicest laughs as the domino that tips everything over, and a surprise cameo from a certain musical superstar (I do not mean Lizzo) clinches a sublime freestanding moment during the generously fun first hour.

Each performance, like the film as a whole, benefits from a surfeit of workplace detail provided by the cadre of real-life strippers consulting and working as extras. The collaboration overwrites regressive narratives about stripping and sex work, and moreover, it grounds the milieu in procedural minutiae that feel real because they are.

The dressing-room chatter, the immaculate late-’00s/early-’10s song selection, tricks of the trade like stashing extra tips in your boots — it demonstrates an attentiveness on Scafaria’s part that makes the crazier scenes, such as Dorothy dropping her daughter off at school while wearing a bloodstained halter top, feel more credible. Even though awkward sentences may sometimes be threaded through their mouths, these women are real people, bone and blood and impeccably toned ab muscles.

Published 27 Aug 2019

Tags: Cardi B Constance Wu Jennifer Lopez Julia Stiles Lorene Scafaria

Anticipation.

J Lo’s recent output hasn’t always been stellar, but she’s J Lo, so…

Enjoyment.

A fun night out that won’t cost you $15,000.

In Retrospect.

As all good strippers know, you leave ‘em wanting more.

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