Hustlers (2019) Oct 5, 2019 21:06:34 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Oct 5, 2019 21:06:34 GMT -5
Directed by: Lorene Scafaria
Directed by: Lorene Scafaria
From left: Lili Reinhart, Jennifer Lopez, Keke Palmer, and Constance Wu.
Dorothy (Constance Wu) is the daughter of immigrants, living in New York City with her lovely grandmother (Wai Ching Ho) in their cozy home. At night, Dorothy works as a dancer at Moves, a local strip club, under the name Destiny, where she's barely making ends meet after her boss, security, and the other dancers get their cut. The club's headliner is a woman named Ramona Vega (Jennifer Lopez), and Destiny watches in envy at how Ramona effortlessly works the pole and shakes wealthy Wall Street brokers and CEOs of a good portion of their 401k night after night. A chance to talk on the club's rooftop during a smoke-break — which ends with Ramona wrapping Destiny in her gigantic fur-coat like a bear-cub — launches quite possibly the greatest strip club hustle ever conceived. And it's a true story.
Ramona gives Destiny tips on how to improve her dancing skills, and the two make a killing until the 2008 recession hits. After Moves is forced to cut many of its dancers, Destiny takes time off to have a baby and is subsequently hit hard with expenses once more. She crosses paths with Ramona again come 2011, and finds she has a whole new scheme up her expensive, designer sleeves. The two round up fellow strippers Mercedes (Keke Palmer) and Annabelle (Lili Reinhart) and do their best to work contacts and snuggle-up to rich men in bars, drug them, take them to Moves, drain their debit and credit cards, and secure them a cab-ride home.
For a while, it's a pretty brilliant plan. When the men check their balances the following day, Ramona reaches out and tells them they had a great night, even if they don't remember it. The chances of the men calling the police and putting their cushy jobs and marital status in jeopardy over a rowdy night at a club they probably shouldn't be at is minimal. The girls think of it as a form of getting back at the ones who profited off of the recession, not to mention got off scot-free while the rest of America had to grind to get a fraction of their savings back. But if Martin Scorsese films have taught us seasoned filmgoers anything, it's that these women are practically set up for a hard fall from grace. At least they have a bitchin' climb in the meantime.
Hustlers is made so successful by a handful of strong performances and appropriately gaudy, glittery visuals, thanks in large part to fuchsia cinematography by Todd Banhazl, who captures all the neon a film this side of Spring Breakers can handle. Banhazl does a swell job at lighting the plush strip club with warm, vibrant hues while curating the daylight sequences with a sort of magazine-quality that highlights the perfection all around. From the characters' dance-moves, their physiques, and the horrifically expensive garments, it all looks just as exquisite as it probably felt to pocket thousands upon thousands of dollars from (mostly) terrible men.
Thanks be to writer/director Lorene Scafaria (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World) for finally utilizing Jennifer Lopez in a film that isn't a shallow romantic comedy. The film runs through Lopez — in her best performance since Selena, no question — and manifests her kinetic energy into a story that moves from the moment the Christian Louboutins hit the floor. Constance Wu, however, is not along for the ride. Channeling that underlying sweetness and instantly winnable charisma that made her last year's breakout star in Crazy Rich Asians, Wu commands many moments. Several of those come during the film's frame-story, which involves Destiny speaking with Elizabeth (Julia Stiles), a journalist, trying to get the skinny on what exactly went down between her and Ramona. Such a piece was actually written by New York writer Jessica Pressler and became "The Hustlers at Scores;" must-read stuff, I might add.
Besides Jennifer Lopez's commanding presence and the effervescence of Constance Wu, the film refreshingly lacks a male gaze, and is absolved of that familiar sleaziness we assume inherent in films like this. As much as I love Paul Verhoeven's Showgirls for its unabashedly erotic edge and satirical angle, Hustlers shows what happens when there is a little love and humanity shed on women in male-dominated environments. There's a loving sisterhood behind the curtains and streamers, and in the film's first half, we see a lot of the playful banter, elevated by the likes of Cardi B (in a role I'm sure she slaved over trying to prepare for) and pop sensation Lizzo (her flute makes a cameo too, in a memorably sultry way). Overtime, as the film concentrates on the conniving quartet, there is still a mutual love for each other even as Ramona begins to break away and become greedier. It all amounts to a fun ensemble, rich with chemistry, that ties the whole package together.
It's also necessary to mention the banging soundtrack Hustlers boasts, as it relies on era-specific tunes to set the mood. Hearing Sean Kingston's swooning "Beautiful Girls" and Usher's simultaneously playful and romantic "Love in This Club" not only brings back fuzzy, merely decade-old nostalgia, but it shows a level of cognizance to the period in which the film takes place. Moreso than just serving as empty party music, the songs are clearly chosen to provide commentary on the scenes in which they play, with arguably the best use of Lorde's trance-inducing "Royals" we'll ever see, to boot.
Hustlers is stiletto-sharp and unapologetically brash while still being as fierce and as inviting as the sum of its cast. The magnetism of its ensemble and fluidness of the story make such issues as there being too many characters and sometimes too many plotlines almost effectively evaporate, given the core focus of the con is so intriguing. One final footnote: Lorene Scafaria is the long-time boyfriend of comedian Bo Burnham, who made his directorial debut last year with the critically acclaimed Eighth Grade. There's a wealth of talent in that household, and I feel the best is still yet to come from both.
Starring: Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Julia Stiles, Wai Ching Ho, Cardi B, Lizzo, Mercedes Ruehl, and Frank Whaley. Directed by: Lorene Scafaria.