Hustlers Movie Review: A Post-Recession Fairy Tale
Hustlers begins as a period piece set in 2007, complete with vintage episodes of Keeping Up With The Kardashians playing in the background, Britney Spears’s “Gimme More” blasting in the car, and club visits from a pre-Herpes Usher met with bottle-popping enthusiasm. Lorde’s “Royals” tells us when we’ve flashed forward to 2013, and “Love In This Club” lets us know that we’ve returned to a pre-Recession wonderland.
For a few sweet moments, this is the millennial fairytale of a far-away land where stock markets don’t crash, housing bubbles don’t pop, and Constance Wu’s Destiny can make a thousand dollars in one night of stripping without ever having to see a penis. These were the good ol’ days, when Jennifer Lopez‘s buzz-worthy Ramona and Destiny danced at a flourishing Manhattan strip club alongside Lizzo, Cardi B, and a parade of bankers more than willing to make it rain seven nights a week. Lest you get the urge to quit your job for a lucrative career on the pole, when Destiny tries to return to the good life after 2008’s financial crisis, she finds the once-glamorous world of Scores replaced by a struggling industry where dancers are lucky to get $300 for giving head in shady back rooms. Down but never out, Ramona recruits her former protegé for a Robin Hood scheme alongside Lili Reinhart and Keke Palmer, drugging wealthy customers and maxing out their credit cards.
Jennifer Lopez could step on our neck and we’d say, “Do it again!” but every leading lady in Hustlers has the ability to make unsuspecting passersby snap to their beck and call. Cardi B’s gigantic pasties? Celestial. Lili Reinhart’s constant vomiting? Weirdly hot. Lizzo with the flute? Literally, end me. End me with that woodwind instrument. This movie will solidify whether you’re a heterosexual female because if even an inch of you is interested in women, you will be feeling some type of way as you exit the theater.
For straight men (or anyone who’s sexually interested in women), Hustlers is the gender-bent equivalent of Magic Mike. We came to see hot people take off their clothes and instead had to watch Channing Tatum be sad for two hours and think about poverty. Imagining finance bros who expected to see Cardi B’s nipples instead getting a ten-minute explanation of how strippers just want to be celibate and nap, though, makes it all seem worth it.
Jokes aside, J. Lo’s performance reminded us of why the world fell in love with “Jenny From The Block” in the mid-’90s, when she was best known as the energetic and incandescent leading lady in Selena and Out of Sight. This is her best film since those hypnotic early roles, with the multi-hyphenate in top-form repackaging her many talents to augment her acting chops instead of letting natural skills as a dancer and mythical figure weigh down her performance. J. Lo’s animal magnetism is a foil to Hustlers’ central character, Destiny, whose equally nostalgic and nervous narration sets the tone for our story’s main event. If filmmaker Lorerne Scafaria was taking her cues from Goodfellas (which she definitely was), we wouldn’t have been opposed to J. Lo’s Ramona stepping in as a second narrator à la Karen Hill, but every great true crime adaptation has to forge its own path, leaving Destiny’s hero-worship of her mentor as the only opinion on Ramona that really matters.
After Constance Wu’s Fresh Off The Boat Twitter debacle, allegations that she was demanding top billing during the Hustlers press tour were used by Page Six, Fox News, and other gossip rags to imply that Constance was a crazy, attention-hungry diva with no respect for our eternally youthful queen J. Lo, but after seeing the finished product, we can understand where Constance was coming from. Stunt castings like Cardi B and Lizzo, who can’t act but added to the movie’s undeniable star power, got so much marketing attention that we didn’t realize Constance was Hustlers’ star until 20 minutes into the film. The Crazy Rich Asians actress got top billing on the poster because she was the literal main character, but Cardi’s coveted last billing spot was a more accurate representation of where STXfilms’ priorities lie. The “Bodak Yellow” rapper got more press than scene-stealer Keke Palmer or Julia Stiles — even though we all know Cardi don’t need no press — despite having less than twenty minutes of screen time. No shade on Cardi, whose IRL past as a stripper lent the film some necessary street cred, but let’s stop hating on Constance for demanding her spotlight when we would’ve applauded a man doing the same damn thing.
Beyond its flashy blockbuster sensibilities and self-aware emotional mechanisms, Hustlers provided a nearly accurate depiction of the world we live in with its leading quartet led by an Asian star and rounded out by performances from Latina, white, and black performers. It’s just too bad that it took a film about strippers stealing cash from white dudes to get this type of visibility. Where’s the ethnic diversity in movies about bankers and brokers on Wall Street? Moreover, where’s the ethnic diversity, IDK, on Wall Street?
As the credits rolled at our local AMC, other moviegoers complained about our anti-heroines’ lack of jail time. What you call “eavesdropping” we call “artistic research,” and during that research we heard men in the audience lamenting how Hustlers’ female leads were able to drug men and mostly get away with it, with weekends in jail and a move back to Queens as the extent of their punishment. Well, yeah. If it were Wall Street bankers cooking GHB cocktails and stealing from strippers, we’d have a bigger problem rooting for our (mostly) fictional protagonists because white men aren’t ~systemically oppressed~. Both Hustlers and the New Yorker article it’s based on include Destiny’s explanation that she could have been one of those bankers in a former life, but as the latter noted, those bankers were born into their bodies, and Destiny was born into hers. We don’t condone the real-life drugging of wealthy men as an actionable solution to the gender wage gap, but we have little sympathy for those given the keys to the kingdom so recklessly that they could be stolen by a team of sweet-talking, MDMA toting hustlers.