REVIEW: ‘Hustlers’ is more than just an upbeat movie about strippers

Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez in "Hustlers," which opened in theaters Friday.

The star-studded “Hustlers” movie contains many lighthearted and laugh-inducing scenes, but it also tackles serious topics such as morality and economic inequality, making it unique compared to movies with similar premises.

 

The female-centered movie stars Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Lizzo, Cardi B and Julia Stiles. The movie was also directed by a woman, Lorene Scafaria.

 

Scafaria pulled inspiration for the film from the true story of two strippers who drugged their Wall Street clients, which was chronicled in a 2015 New York Magazine article titled “The Hustlers at Scores.”

 

The first third of the movie consists of what most viewers would expect from a film about strippers. Most of the scenes take place in a strip club and focus on the atmosphere of this environment and the interactions between the women and their clients.

 

The end of this first act is marked by a surprise cameo from Usher, who was known to frequent strip clubs in the 2000s. His hit single “Love in This Club” blasts as all the performers dance on stage for him. This high-energy scene is followed by an abrupt change in tone and pace, with the 2008 stock market crash leading the women to take more drastic measures to maintain their lavish lifestyles — by drugging men and stealing thousands of dollars from them.

 

The remainder of the movie focuses on the women’s spiral out of control as they fall deeper and deeper into this scheme, not knowing when or how to stop. Viewers see Wu’s Destiny struggle with the morality of the situation and what they are doing to these men, but she also can’t seem to break free of the bond she has with the other women, specifically Lopez’s Ramona.

 

Music plays a large role in the film, featuring artists ranging from Fiona Apple to Lil Wayne to even Frankie Valli and Chopin. However, the soundtrack lacked any contributions from the film’s leading ladies — a move that grounds the film in reality by only including songs that were out when the plot takes place. 

 

This may leave some viewers who were hoping for a Lopez-Lizzo-Cardi B collaboration feeling disappointed, but it also maintains the film’s true-to-life tone and avoids a musical scene that could push the movie well into corny territory.

 

The featured songs are interwoven with the movie’s plot and help tell the characters’ story. The film opens to Janet Jackson’s “Control,” which foreshadows the film’s later theme of losing control and not being able to get it back. To illustrate this, the movie includes a scene where Destiny experiences a nightmare about being in the backseat of a car with nobody steering it. The scene feels out of place and disconnected from the rest of the film.

 

Lopez and Wu’s acting chops shine through in the film as they portray three-dimensional characters with multi-faceted personalities and motivations. Meanwhile, Reinhart and Palmer’s supporting characters receive less development and primarily provide comic relief during the film’s more intense scenes, leaving them difficult to take seriously. This is especially the case for Reinhart’s Annabelle, who pukes anytime she gets nervous.

 

The emphasis of the film is on the bond between the women, specifically between Destiny and Ramona, who share more than one heartfelt scene. However, these scenes lose some of their potential impact because Ramona’s motivations remain unclear, causing her friendship with Destiny to seem disingenuous at times.

 

The movie also explores the concept of economic inequality and the lengths people are willing to go when they are desperate enough. The film does not condone the women’s actions but rather explores their reasons and the events that led up to them. 

 

The driving point of the movie is to use a strip club as a metaphor for America, claiming there are those who hold all the money and those who dance for it. This point is not made in any concrete way until the end of the film and should have been explored more in depth throughout it.

 

Overall, the film is worth a watch with much more emotional and thought-provoking content than it may appear at first glance. Its leading ladies are depicted as complex characters who are more than just their occupations, or even their crimes.

 

(1) comment

Joe Motley

In all honesty the movie is set to have the audience sympathize with women who drug men and steal their money and life without there being any condemning action or consequences towards such wicked crimes as one should expect, but to try and make excuses by having their lives filled with trauma and sadness to justify their actions. If the roles in the movie were reverse, if it was about male strippers drugging and extorting women clients, then that would be quite the controversial and thought provoking subject.

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