Labeling Hustlers as just a “stripper movie” is as salacious as the profession. Yes, the Jennifer Lopez-led film is about strippers. But there’s also a Scorsese level of greed that lets their industry become the subtext of a more important talking point.
Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World), Hustlers tells the true story of strippers drugging and hustling wall street brokers for cash during the recession.
Lopez plays Ramona, the den mother and shining star of a New York strip club. J-Lo’s booty alone is enough to bring in cash with a pole-dancing scene to Fiona Apple’s “Criminal,” but it’s her hardened, motherly instincts that cut through.
Constance Wu is Destiny, the baby lamb in the world of stripping. Ramona takes her under her wing (fur coat more accurately) and decides to teach her the ropes.
Things are relatively innocent at first: pole moves, lap dance pointers from Cardi B, Lizzo playing flute in the dressing room.
Hell, even Usher makes a dramatic appearance to one of his own songs (I’ll let you guess which).
Then the recession hits.
Destiny parts ways with the scene, only to return to the strip club a couple years later where the once thriving club is now desolate. It’s soon after their reunion that Ramona hatches a scheme to drug wealthy Wall Street clients out of their money.
She reigns in the innocent Annabelle played by a squeamish Lili Reinhart and the always hilarious Keke Palmer for brilliant comedic relief as Mercedes. Like any good mob gang, even the suspected weaker links have their purpose.
The first act of Hustlers is the raunchiest, offering enough R-rated material to tide over people until the credits. But the second and third acts surprisingly dig deep into why these ladies do what they do. This is a profession that’s not to be degraded to just boobs and butts, even if that’s whats on display.
Not to say what they’re doing to the men is right, but that their actions can be justified: life’s just one big pyramid scheme.
The whole time the group’s deals are going down, we know it’s before no time they’ll be caught. But we’re along for the ride regardless.
They bond like sisters, whether that’s obsessing over the latest 2000s fashion (lots of fur jackets, snake print, Juicy Couture tracksuits), spending Christmas together as a family or sharing unexpected visits to the hospital.
Lopez has been getting a lot of buzz for her “Oscar worthy” performance, but when she’s with Wu; there’s no stopping them. At one point, Ramona clings to Destiny, saying they were “hurricanes” back in the day. The same is true for the actors.
I don’t know if Hustlers has an Oscar waiting in the VIP room, but it’s worthy of the award for female friendship in film, and telling the hustle of a life beyond G-strings and sequins.