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Hustlers review - strip club crime pays | reviews, news & interviews

Hustlers review - strip club crime pays

Hustlers review - strip club crime pays

Jennifer Lopez exploits Wall Street's appetite for sex and drugs

Venus in fur: Dorothy (Constance Wu) and Ramona (Jennifer Lopez)

When did Dorothy (Constance Wu) really want to be a stripper? Maybe it’s when she looks with love at Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) during her strutting set piece dance, as she descends to a carpet of cash. If that’s the equivalent of Ray Liotta’s gangster gliding to the best table in Goodfellas, Hustlers is more accurately the Casino of stripper films, sociological and historical, but never salacious, in its depiction of an outré life. Set around the 2008 financial crash, Lorene Scafaria’s film shows how the women’s “side-hustles” with Wall Street clients slipped into drugging them and directly siphoning their accounts. Based on a magazine article, Elizabeth (Julia Stiles) is the journalist hearing how it all went wrong.

Male lechery is simply absent from Scafaria’s gaze. This is a wild workplace story, where men can be obnoxious, but mutual exploitation is priced in. Rather than the effortful gender inversions of Widows or Ocean’s 8, it’s a rare, organic tale of hapless male victims and female friendship. In the outrageously stylish image which follows Ramona’s dance, she reclines on the club rooftop, smoking and seeming aglow, in a fur coat which Dorothy sinks inside. This semi-maternal bond gives Hustlers its emotional thread, as behaviour otherwise badly unravels.

Constance Wu, Frank Whaley and Jennifer Lopez in HustlersScafaria also convincingly depicts women feeling strengthened by their swaggering, blatant sexuality. Usher cameos, as a measure of social realism is applied to the supposedly aspirational milieu of R&B and hip hop videos. A glimpse of Keeping Up With the Kardashians shows this trope’s purchase far beyond the strip club. So does Lopez. Initially making her name through erotic heat before authoritative acting in Out of Sight, even all these years later, her stardom rests on maintaining her physique. Her hard-bodied athleticism here suggests that professional effort, this tough carapace, of a piece with her broad New York accent, defining a steely performance. Wu is wide-eyed and mercurial next to her: Hustlers’ softer heart.

The soundtrack is interspersed with Chopin’s piano Études, suggesting a society comedy (and Scott Joplin’s ragtime themes in The Sting). The incongruities of this semi-legit, eventually criminal world are often casually funny. “Three to five is a big commitment,” one stripper muses of waiting out her banker beau’s jailtime; “So, are you hung up on the druggin’?” Dorothy quizzes slack-jawed journo Elizabeth.

Jennifer Lopez in HustlersThe self-deception at the heart of the hustle is increasingly hard to ignore, as drugged marks crash like pole-axed timber through glass tables and swan-dive off roofs. Ramona may dismiss them all as a rapacious, vain elite, ripe for the taking. But the moral flaw of any crime is that you can’t know an individual victim’s story. And Doug (Steven Boyer) proves almost parodically pitiable as the women destroy him. Despite decades of moviegoers getting off with untroubled ease on male mobsters, Scafaria doesn’t let her female crooks off the hook. 

The symbiotic relationship between strip clubs and Wall Street is given on the nose emphasis by Ramona: “This whole country is a strip club. You’ve got people tossing the money. And people doin’ the dance.” Scafaria mostly settles for a more modest, pungently convincing look at what some women do to get by.

Lopez's tough carapace, of a piece with her broad New York accent, defines a steely performance


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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