Hustlers (2019)

by The Movie Diorama

Hustlers maxes out its own credit card by hustling cameos instead of a sensual narrative. Strip clubs, twerking, grinding and hustling. On paper, this isn’t my glass of champagne at all. An overtly feministic perspective on capitalism built around the hierarchal politics of a successful strip club.

It’s exploitative without necessarily daring to reveal all, teasing the audience with its profound female empowerment. Yet Scafaria keeps the “tabletops” and “leg hooks” to a minimum, instead using her intentions to display an empathetic struggle for affected women during the financial crisis, however with middling results. A crew of strippers set out to “steal what is already stolen” by drugging up stock brokers and CEOs and maxing out their credit limits.

There’s plenty to admire in this adaptation of Pressler’s article, more than just the provocative flesh on stage. Instead of showcasing archetypal characters that consistently strip for money, fuelling the eternal ethical debate of “adult entertainment”, Scafaria attempts to inject some humanity into them. Balancing adoration for exotic dancing with desperation. Supporting a grandmother, raising a child, paying for additional studies. She manages to blend the superficiality of corrupted Wall Street with personable scenarios, making the characters emotionally investable to a certain degree.

The promise of sisterhood and ambition is plagued by an aggressive stance on virtuosity, with these strippers believing in the validity of their illegal activity. A lavish white Christmas at J-Lo’s apartment is a perfect example of the wealthy lifestyle forcibly allowing this crew to bond with one another. After all, money truly is the key to everyone’s heart.

The ferocious performances solidify the independence of these women. Lopez gaining much attention for her role as the lead con artist and, whilst she is revelatory, tends to overact the restrained moments and ruins the emotional simmering. The overwhelming praise seemingly came about due to the fact she’s actually in a decent film finally. However, it’s Wu who truly elevates this crime drama. Strong yet vulnerable. Determined yet fragile. Acting as the audience’s eyes, her moral compass certainly allows us to question the legitimacy of the crime in hand, as she provides this with heft and assurance. Cardi B and Lizzo? No thank you. Unnecessary distractions, only implemented to increase the star quality of the promotional material.

Now for the refund…! Scafaria unfortunately failed to dive deep into the heart of the issue. Corruption. Hustlers lacks narrative control. She clearly wants to tackle the subject with sufficient prowess, especially ending on the line “you have people tossing the money and people doing the dance”, but retains a light buoyant tone throughout that nullifies these heavier scenes.

The first act rushes along exploring the world of strip clubs and the audacious politics within. J-Lo is spinning on a pole. Cardi B is, well, Cardi B. And the financial crisis crashes upon them. Then, without much depth, they start hustling together. The second act seemingly explaining the methods of their game through repetitive scenes of targeted customers being drugged, having their credit cards swiped and returning them home. Then the much needed final act divulges into the emotional bonds of these women whilst illustrating the manifestation of greed. However, due to the previous hour glossing over the real character development, these moments never remain.

Scafaria’s focus on “family with money”, as if we’re watching ‘Fast and Furious Presents: Women’, inadvertently weakened the resonance of its conclusive half. The excessive humour juxtaposing the rapacity. The interviewing styled narrative, although meticulous and refreshing, dipped towards the end with its unnecessary elongation, rendering Stiles as mere exposition. Oh, and the soundtrack was woeful, even if it was trying to replicate “club music” from the earlier half of this decade. I doubt Flo Rida was being played in strip clubs.

A dire shame really, as technically the film is incredibly proficient. But it could’ve been so much more given the exuberant source material. Instead of ‘Widows’, we got ‘Ocean’s 8’, with an intrepid light tone that didn’t match the daunting subject matter. Good, not great. Atleast we can agree that Lopez is stunning!