Released: 10th October
Seen: 11th October
You’d think that there’d be a lot more films about exotic dancers. After all, it’s a job that can contain the three things that people love more than anything. Sex, drugs, and dancing to remixes of Britney Spears songs. Still, it feels like there aren’t that many major hit films about exotic dancers. There’s the infamous Showgirls, maybe some people remember the 1996 film Striptease and there are, of course, the two recent Magic Mike movies (the second one is better, I will not be accepting arguments on this), I know of Zombie Strippers and Full Monty but that’s about all I could name off the top of my head. There are others but not many that are giant mainstream hits and certainly none that would really get any kind of buzz as being more than just a fun movie to enjoy on a night out with friends… well, then Hustlers came along and said “Fine, I guess we’ll have to give you everything you ever wanted” and just ran away with every bit of my heart.
Hustlers, inspired by the New York Magazine article “The Hustlers At Scores”, follows Destiny (Constance Wu) who dances at the strip club Moves to earn enough money to support her elderly grandmother. She’s just barely scraping by, making enough in tips to do what she can but one day she spots another dancer who is just raking in the tips. The dancer who is excelling at the job is named Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) and soon Destiny is under her wing, learning everything that Ramona knows. Slowly they, along with several other dancers at the club, are raking in the dough from the rich Wall Street guys who come in and throw money around like it’s nothing… until the massive financial crash of 2008 happens and suddenly their usual well of clients dries up. Desperate, Destiny and Ramona think up a way to get new clients so they can drain their bank accounts. With the help of their old friends Mercedes (Keke Palmer) and Annabelle (Lili Reinhart) they come up with a plan to do a little robbery, maybe drug some Wall Street guys, take as much of their money as they can get and buy everything they ever wanted.
It’s the kind of story that we see a lot, hard working people finally realise that the system is rigged against them and decided to finally play the system. Taking that kind of story and putting it in a strip club is a brilliant idea and the script for this is incredible. If you read the original article you can see where they’ve adjusted some things and blended people to create this world, but they never push it outside the realm of reality. Much like a similar film, Wolf of Wall Street, this film follows the main characters slow evolution from legitimate to unethical to flat out illegal, except in less time and with more spectacular visual flair. You get sucked into this world within seconds, its bold, bright colours and gloriously carefully thought out camera work makes every second a delight even before we think about who we’re looking at and what they’re doing.
For a while I was happy to consider this a great ensemble film, everyone delivers amazing performances and for a while I was happy to have my attention divided between a bevy of incredible women who were just killing every line… and then Jennifer Lopez came out and did a pole dance to Criminal by Fiona Apple (one of the more pointed music choices in the film) and the film belonged to her from that moment until the end credits. This isn’t to downplay anyone else in the cast, every single person is genuinely brilliant and deliver performances that dance along that delicate line where comedic, dramatic and enticing meet. Everyone goes all in and doesn’t hold back for a second, they’ve all signed on to play some empowered exotic dancers and they do it with aplomb but somehow Jennifer just overpowers all of them. She is delivering a performance that gives Ramona all the charm and wit you could hope for, you know immediately that she’s a woman who can get whatever she wants but that it will eventually crash around her. There is a good goddamn reason why there is Oscar buzz around this performance because it’s absolutely amazing and it shows that when you give Jennifer Lopez the right material to work with then she will shine.
Seeing these women take on Wall Street bigwigs is almost a gloriously cathartic experience, even now several years after the GFC we’re still dealing with the consequences so could we ask for a less sympathetic set of victims than a bunch of Wall Street jackasses? It’s almost fun watching these women take control and get some revenge for what they did, and they do it in a way that plays the audience like we were another client. Even though it’s set in a strip club, the film is never seedy about it. It never feels like anyone’s being objectified, except the men who are there for their wallets and that’s about it. It’s kind of stunning how a film could literally have women walking around in outfits one would expect to see in a strip club and it never feels like the camera is objectifying them… almost like having a female director can actually make a considerable difference in how a film frames its female cast. Seriously, I don’t know what this film would look like without director Lorene Scafaria at the helm guiding everything so perfectly to make everything flow so well.
Do you know what my biggest gripe with this film is? The biggest negative I can come up with? We lose Cardi B and Lizzo way too early. The film’s story lasts for several years and right at the start we get to see all these powerhouse performers, including the engaging as hell Cardi B and Lizzo who just ooze pure charisma… until we have a time jump and then suddenly they aren’t in the film anymore. When my biggest gripe is “I really wish I could have more of these side characters” that’s a pretty good problem to have. Maybe, if I stretch I can say that some scenes did feel a tiny bit repetitive but only a little bit, not enough to get annoying. I do genuinely believe they could’ve found more ways to use Lizzo and Cardi and pretty much all of the girls in the opening scenes but that’s just a personal thing. It’s also possible that a full 2 hours with that many huge personalities might have overpowered the movie, still would’ve enjoyed seeing them try though.
Hustlers is the modern stripper movie we have waited for. A well-written crime drama with enough class, sass and women who are bold as brass to keep everyone entertained. With a career-best performance that just anchors everything in place, it’s a movie that will definitely linger for a while. While we’ve seen some of this before, and some parts would be nice to see more of, it’s all part of the exciting tease that this film does for its eager and willing audience.