My notes on Hustlers
In the wake of the financial crash, a group of New York City strippers suddenly have to work a lot harder to bring high-spending clients into the club where they work – and a crew run by Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) up their earnings by drugging Wall St feebs and maxxing out their credit cards. This true crime anecdote – the culprits get ludicrously light sentences at the end – is spun by director-writer Lorena Scarafria (Looking for a Friend at the End of the World) into a real crowd-pleaser in the Magic Mike mode, with a knockout performance from Lopez in her first true diva role in decades and sterling protagonist work from Constance Wu as Destiny, who gets pulled into Ramona’s circle but is eventually the one to take the deal from the NYPD and testify.
There’s a frame with Destiny being interviewed by a journo (Julia Stiles, pointedly not playing Jessica Pressler – who wrote the source article) and narrating the whole thing, with editorial about financial crookery – Will Ferrall and Adam McKay of The Big Short are credited as producers and this is almost a footnote to that – to go along with many scenes of sharp women – the gang also includes Keke Palmer (Scream Queens), Lili Reinhart (Riverdale) and eventual flake/loose cannon Madeline Brewer (Cam, Braid) but bits for musos Cardi B and Lizzo – taking advantage of unlikeable, sleazy guys.
Only near the end do we run across a victim we’re encouraged to feel sorry for, with his elaborate tale of multiple woes, and this is whisked away smartly … though that’s a turning point for Destiny in sensing that her fast friend/role model/surrogate Mom might have a sliver of ice for a heart and be going too far in crookery to get away with it. Also funny yet pointed is an anecdote about the idiot who fails to jump into a swimming pool and has to be delivered naked to a hospital – with Palmer suddenly going all teen tantrum and running off on silly heels squealing ‘I won’t do it’ as the tiny Wu has to heft the unconscious lunk onto a stretcher while hamming up a ‘help my husband’ hysterical fit.
For the most part, it’s bright, funny, sharp and affecting, with a not-too-male-gazey adoration of its varied female cast … though, let’s face it, it’s still a film about strippers (only extras do nudity) and does involve a set-piece where Lopez twerks around a pole in a pile of cash. My bet for the breakout from this is Reinhart, a blue-eyed blonde with a funny Barbie look – though she gets the weakest running joke, about vomiting. As much as anything else, this is a triumph of casting – being the mainstream movie that notices how good Brewer has been in odd indie horror films and gives her a meaty role is a real plus.