Hustlers

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Hustlers
"There's an avoidance of the cheap voyeurism that usually goes with this sort of territory." | Photo: STX Films

One of those films that reminds you that fact can be just as interesting as fiction, this tale of criminal enterprise against a backdrop of female friendship sees J-Lo hit a career high. She's a brassy force of nature, blasting along the action as Ramona, the brains behind the criminal outfit. Based on a New York Magazine article by Jessica Pressler (which is well worth a read either before or after you've seen the film), it tells the story of a group of strippers who decided it was time they had a shot at being in control.

It's 2007, a time when, odd as it may seem now, stripping and pole dancing were having something of a 'cultural moment' - with New York strip clubs seen as a place to be seen and pole dancing the latest buzz exercise. It's against this backdrop that Dorothy (Constance Wu), heads to Manhattan to try to make some cash, picking up the dancer name Destiny. Shy and unsure, she's lucky enough to be taken under the wing - not to mention the expansive fur coat - of Ramona, who quickly marks her out as a protege.

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The action is cleverly structured, with writer/director Lorene Scafaria using the magazine article as a framing device, as Destiny relating what happened to journalist Elizabeth (Julia Stiles). This allows Scafaria to move seamlessly back and forth in time at the same time as indicating how things have turned out for Destiny in retrospect. The writer/director makes no bones about how talented the women are at their jobs - the sight of Ramona artfully twisting herself round a pole in a demonstration to Destiny belying every one of Lopez's 50 years.

But though they're sexy and goddess-like, and captured magnificently in hot neon by cinematographer Todd Banhazl, there's an avoidance of the cheap voyeurism that usually goes with this sort of territory. Instead, Scafaria highlights the animalistic tendencies of the Wall Street executives who visit the clubs, either demanding more than a married man should or doubling down on sleaziness with affected sympathy - "Who hurt you? What did daddy do to you?"

We soon learn that the good times were about to end with the 2008 financial crisis that saw the men stripped of their shirts and the dancers lose their dividends. After time out with a baby, Destiny returns to a very different landscape, and discovers Ramona has come up with a new way of raking in cash by hooking in men by fair means and foul.

Like Destiny, we can see the attraction of the easy cash, after all, it's hard to have sympathy for the men who after all they can get as well? Scafaria elegantly shows the scam in action as Ramona, Destiny and their posse  (Keke Palme and Lili Reinhart) are as co-ordinated a crew off-stage as they are on it, faking shot drinking and coke sniffing, while luring in their marks via fair means or foul. There's more to it than pure money. The idea of control extends to Ramona's relationship with the younger women and there's an ambiguity to their connection with Destiny that is admirably maintained until the last. Unlike many films which simply glorify crime for its own sake, Scafaria, like Destiny, also finds time to consider the victims, so that we see both the women's motivations and their culpability with clarity.

There's strength in numbers in the cast, which also includes rappers Lizzo and Cardi B (a stripper herself in pre-Grammy days) in cameo roles. This is the J-Lo show though and she hustles the film away from the others, running a watttage of 80 per cent old school diva and 20 per cent Jenny From The Block that adds up to 100 per cent magnificence.

Reviewed on: 13 Sep 2019
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Hustlers packshot
A group of strippers hatch a plan to fleece their clientele.

Director: Lorene Scafaria

Writer: Lorene Scafaria, based on the magazine article by Jessica Pressler

Starring: Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles, Mette Towley, Wai Ching Ho, Emma Batiz, Vanessa Aspillaga, Big Jay Oakerson, Trace Lysette, Marcy Richardson, Keke Palmer, Mercedes Ruehl, Lili Reinhart, Gerald Earl Gillum, Cardi B

Year: 2019

Runtime: 109 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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