Movie Review – Hustlers (2019)
Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
Despite the obvious, there’s another reason why this film could be compared to the hit Channing Tatum flick Magic Mike (2012). Yes, the obvious reason is that both are films about strippers…or in this case the characters are more exotic dancers or pole dancers. The other reason though is the reaction to the film being very similar. In the wake of Magic Mike, a lot of people praised the performance of Matthew McConaughey, propping him up for a possible Academy Award nomination. There’s similar propping up for Jennifer Lopez who is the analogous character here. Yet, her character is also somewhat analogous to Tatum’s character, particularly in terms of the person in the film who is more of an accomplished dancer. If this film goes the same way as Magic Mike, Lopez won’t get a nomination. Her performance is on par with McConaughey’s, but her role here is more significant than McConaughey’s was. Yet, I would argue that this film isn’t the best performance I’ve seen from Lopez and even recently, Lopez’s role in NBC’s Shades of Blue represented a monumental leap forward in her acting career.
This film though is more ambitious than something like Magic Mike. The film reaches for more in the way that The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) or The Big Short (2015) reached for more. This film is about the 2008 financial crisis and the greed from those involved, as well as the fact those involved really weren’t punished. The only ones hurt were those on the lower end of the economic spectrum, the working-class. It’s about those who take retribution on those Wall Street types, but it’s through the prism of women versus men, the battle of the sexes. It’s about female friendships at the same time. It puts the film in line with recent films along those same lines, such as Molly’s Game (2017), Ocean’s Eight (2018), Widows (2018) and The Kitchen (2019).
Constance Wu (Crazy Rich Asians and Fresh Off the Boat) stars as Dorothy, an exotic dancer in New York who goes by the name, Destiny in the year 2007. She’s relatively new to the nightclub scene. She’s not good at pole dancing. She’s also not as voluptuous as some of the other women. She is beautiful, young and Asian, which is a fetishized identity. She has had a troubled past, resulting in her living with her grandmother and not having any other family in her life. She’s doing what she can to take care of her grandmother who has now fallen in financial hardship. Getting a conventional job, such as a retail job, proves difficult for her, so she turns to being a stripper.
She meets a veteran in the nightclub named Ramona Vega, played by Jennifer Lopez. Ramona takes Destiny under her wing and shows her how to dance better, as well as how to manipulate the men who come to the nightclub, especially the men who work on Wall Street. Ramona has developed tricks in order to get those men to pay thousands of dollars at the club. After the recession hits, following the financial crisis, she has to resort to even more insidious tactics to get money from these men. Her tactics turn to criminality where she’s basically stealing from these guys.
Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria, the film does become very much akin to The Wolf of Wall Street. Instead of seeing men partying and going to excess, doing things like snorting cocaine off a stripper’s butt cheek, we see women partying and going to excess. When going to excess for men is using strippers as objects for sex and drugs, it’s interesting to see strippers themselves go to excess. What’s great about Scafaria’s film is that the excess isn’t parallel to men. The women aren’t the ones doing drugs and trying to get sex. In a funny and fun scene of the women having backstage girl talk, their excess is not doing any of that. Their excess is shopping or just sleeping. It might be cliché, but it makes the dynamic different for women and distinct for them.
The camaraderie between the women could have been played up more. The friendship between Destiny and Ramona is the main focus and that friendship is developed the most. It’s so much more developed than the so-called friendship in Magic Mike. It is perhaps even more developed than the friendship between Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill’s characters in The Wolf of Wall Street, but the great and even incredible humor in that film gives it more of an advantage. There is good humor here, but it’s not as funny.
Yet, it’s still entertaining. Lopez doesn’t do as much dancing here as Tatum does in Magic Mike, but she does have a pole dancing scene that’s certainly a knockout. Lopez displays the one part of her body, which people have obsessed over for pretty much all her career. Yes, Lopez’s derriere is very much flaunted in this film. I will argue though that the film isn’t as sexy or even titillating as one might expect a stripper film starring J.Lo to be. Lopez is more glamorous and pimp-like, leaning more toward gangster than she is simply leaning toward sex symbol.
Rated R for pervasive sexual material, drug content, language and nudity.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 50 mins.