September 9, 2019

GENRE | Jennifer Lopez Steals 'Hustlers'

"This whole country is a strip club."
Constance Wu Jennifer Lopez Lorene Scafaria | Hustlers

Filmmaker Lorene Scafaria dazzlingly dramatizes the notorious real-life events behind the viral New York magazine article "The Hustlers at Scores" first reported by journalist Jessica Pressler. Much like Magic Mike, Hustlers uses sex work and stripper culture to explore friendship and working-class economics, however, using the twist of women taking power by victimizing men financially.

Everywoman Constance Wu stars as Dorothy, a struggling small-time strip club dancer and entertainer named Destiny in New York City, taken under the wing of the glamorous ringleader Ramona played by a completely revitalized Jennifer Lopez. Their mother/daughter-like bond sizzles with chemistry even before their more sexualized criminal acts start.

Wu continues her fine work as an audience surrogate and narrator guiding us through glamour while Lopez totally owns the screen alongside her. We also get nice supporting turns from Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, and fun cameos from Lizzo and Cardi B (famously a former stripper herself). Everyone and everything fits.

It's easy to see the parallels of these hardworking, hustling women and their truly immoral counterparts on Wall Street who they target for bilking. In fact, there are few men in the entire film who aren't fleeting characters used to be objects of ridicule or humiliation. Led by Ramona, Dorothy and some of her stripper cohorts start drugging and outright stealing from their more rich, disgusting, and pathetic clients.

Constance Wu Jennifer Lopez Lorene Scafaria | Hustlers

Within in her script, Scarfaria uses the writing of the article and interviews with Wu's Dorothy as a framing device further putting the story into historical context while focusing solely on the friendship at the film's core. Julia Stiles as the journalist feels like an overly artificial, sometimes clunky device yet her framing ultimately serves the purpose of streamlining the breezy 110-minute film.

Scafaria simplifies things by using news of the 2008 financial crisis, some voiceover narration, and glitzy montages to make everything fit together. However, she can't resist the urge for characters to literally express the themes of the film out loud. Structured in two parts, the black comedy second half where we see how the elaborate scams unfold overtake the more casual hangout vibe of the set up before the economic downturn sets things off.

Hustlers uses its crime genre elements to stylishly tell a timely and entertaining story of financial morality. Its glossy sheen reveals substantive themes of female friendship, naked ambition, and the perils of capitalism in a smart but ultra-sexy package. Lopez is sensational and Wu is on a roll thanks to their collaboration with Scarfaria.

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