All Hustlers are simply products of their environments. The year is 2007. In need of a steadier payday to improve her life and her grandmother’s, stripper Destiny (Constance Wu) makes the move to work at a popular gentlemen’s club in Queens. It’s an adjustment, for the clientele at this club are different than the clientele Destiny is accustomed to. And so, she needs to take a different approach, especially after seeing the commanding Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) get anything and everything she wants out of the club in one dance. The two take a quick, strong liking to each other.
Destiny learns that it’s all mental from Ramona, and quickly improves her social standing until the recession hits and forces everyone back to square one. Forced out of necessity to return to the strip club, Destiny reconnects with Ramona, who has a plan to steal from those Wall Street crooks who put the country where it happens to be. Getting assistance from friends/strippers Mercedes (Keke Palmer) and Annabelle (Lili Reinhart), the foursome picks out marks and drugs them by way of a substance that fogs memory for a period of time, allowing them to max out the cards of these poor saps. It’s the perfect plan, until the matters that undo a lot of the best laid plans comes to the forefront: Greed and sloppiness.
The sentiment has been heard everywhere by now surrounding the movie Hustlers. J. Lo is awesome, potentially—maybe certainly—Oscar worthy! That could be premature and perhaps a tad bit too high of praise. With that said, she is awesome and it’s possible this could be the genesis point of a new phase of her career. Don’t overlook everything and everyone else, though. Hustlers is a fun two-ish hour romp and alternate look at the market collapse that wisely chooses to show a story, rather than pick a side.
Hustlers features a lot of famous people, cast and cameos, doing a lot of things. Yet the first thing noticed about Hustlers (or should be noticed) is the style, setting, and mood captured by director Lorene Scafaria (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, The Meddler). Strip clubs are extremely overrated, but the best ones do have an unforgettable and hooking energy that goes well beyond the performers on stage. From the backstage pre-strip conversations before the onstage gyrations, to the moment that Lopez makes her arrival—and well past that in clockwork-like montages and simple back-and-forth interviewer/interviewee exchanges which frame the story—the production values in subtlety impressive cinematography courtesy of Todd Banhazl along with a delightfully old-school soundtrack led by the likes of Britney Spears, Lil’ Wayne, Fat Joe, 50 Cent, and Usher are high.
Adapting from New York Magazine writer Jessica Pressler’s (played by Julia Stiles here and she very much makes the character more active in the story than anticipated), Scafaria wisely plays it down the middle with how she chooses to refrain from placing the subjects at play in an either-or column. In turn, this makes the characters way more relatable and multi-dimensional. The “Inspired by a True Story” tagline could be as easily replaced with “Fight Fire with Fire.” It’s hard not to be enamored in the first half of the film with the horn-grabbing initiative Ramona and company take in securing matters into their own hands during a turbulent period in the U.S. Yet, there’s undoubtedly a very sinister element to their druggy methodology that brings their group E-rating somewhere to the middle as the second half plays out. Of the two, the first half stands as the better of the two, perfectly balancing humor with drama whereas the second half bogs with heavier melodrama. Like a coin however, both halves are needed.
A female-driven cast leads the way. Music superstars Lizzo and Cardi B are memorable enough in short time. Palmer and Reinhart steal scenes anytime they’re away from Lopez. Wu is the first-billed and the Crazy Rich Asians star continues to raise her profile. With all that said, Lopez overshadows all and turns in what is easily her best performance since at least 1997-1998’s Selena and Out of Sight, and the case can be made that she’s never been better as an actress. It’s a performance that calls for a lot of things. She’s motherly, entrepreneurial, lazy, fearless, sexy, relatable, and despicable all at various points. Is it enough to get rewarded at Hollywood’s Super Bowl? It’s a long season, but Jenny from The Block is in play.
To paraphrase an old Lil’ Wayne lyric into a summation of a movie, Hustlers is simply about people who are doing what they got to do for those they love to continue eating and surviving. We’re not meant to be all the way behind them, just to understand to a degree where they’re coming from.
Photo credits go to cnn.com, cinemablend.com, and toofab.com.
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