Rating3.5 / 5
Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles
10 October 2019
Constance Wu kills it. J.Lo plays trashy chic scarily well. And Lili Reinhart shows up to put some blonde hair and a whole lotta vomit on it all.
Expectations are everything. Both in life, and in the movies. While I like to go into every film I see with as little knowledge as possible, it’s very difficult to not make assumptions based on the scraps of information I stumble upon beforehand.
With it’s glitzy, neon coloured poster, it’s romcom leading lady cast and BTS videos of Jennifer Lopez learning to pole dance, I expected Hustlers to be a light-hearted stripper romp… but the reality is a little different.
Destiny (Constance Wu) wants nothing more than to be independent. She wants financial freedom so that she can take care of herself and the most important person in her life – her grandma (Wai Ching Ho). When she meets pole dancing pro and master manipulator of men Ramona (Lopez), her whole life is turned upside down – for better and for worse.
Ramona takes Destiny under her wing and an unlikely friendship forms between the two of them. What starts out as a harmless stripper routine designed to pry cash from the hands of Wall Street big wigs, soon evolves into something far more duplicitous and much more lucrative. Years later, journalist Elizabeth (Julia Stiles) attempts to find out how the hustle began, and how it all went so terribly wrong.
Inspired by true events, Hustlers shoots for dramedy territory, but doesn’t quite manage to blend the two genres. There are a couple of intense scenes where Constance Wu (Crazy Rich Asians) really delivers the goods, demonstrating she has the ability to take on some powerful, dramatic roles in the future. J.Lo also hits all the right emotional beats when the ghetto fabulous Ramona becomes a washed-up, has-been desperately clinging to the past.
At the same time, Hustlers also features some hilarious, borderline ludicrous scenes, with a naked, unconscious man being stuffed into a car, Cardi B going on sassy, barely intelligible rants and Lili Reinhart (Netflix’s Riverdale) projectile vomiting every time her character gets even the slightest bit nervous.
Writer/director Lorene Scafaria (The Meddler, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World) may put in a strong effort, but the film ultimately suffers from her inability to handle the delicate balance of dramedy. She really needed to push the film to one end of the spectrum or the other as I could feel the uncertainty in the cinema as people were unsure whether to laugh, cry or both.
True stories about the rapid rise and inevitable fall of well-intentioned criminals is a narrative that we’ve all seen many times before. But at its core, Hustlers is about the bond of female friendship, and that’s what helps it to stand out.
It also raises a lot of ethical questions around what we as a society define as acceptable behaviour for men versus women, and while it’s definitely pushing an agenda, I feel like it’s the right one. Feminism is often misconstrued as women demanding to have more than men. But true feminism is about equality, and I think Hustlers succeeds in demonstrating that. It shows that no one has the right to mistreat or take advantage of anyone else, no matter whether you’re a man or a woman.
So, bottom line, if you think you’re in for a version of Coyote Ugly or Burlesque with stripper poles, think again. Hustlers may not have been anything like what I was expecting, and it may suffer from jarring tonal shifts, but it kept me entertained the whole way through. If you’re up for an emotional roller coaster and want to see Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez strut their stuff, then this one is for you.
Images courtesy of Roadshow Films