REVIEW: “Hustlers” (2019)

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“Hustlers” is a movie both speaking to and benefiting from the current social and political climate. You see it touching on a number of current hot button issues that too few films are willing to tackle. At the same time just addressing issues doesn’t make a movie great yet it seems to be enough for some. And apparently some have even heralded “Hustlers” as a modern-day “Goodfellas”. Talk about getting carried away.

Exaggerations aside, “Hustlers” is a fairly basic crime drama that plays around with some good ideas but ultimately can’t quite get out of its own way. Wading through the movie’s excesses to get to the meatier story moments can be a chore. And fully embracing its supposed strong view of women as it hypocritically gazes at its stars’ assets makes it a hard sell. In a nutshell, this is weird and frankly shallow view of female empowerment.

“Hustlers” is written and directed by Lorene Scafaria and inspired by a 2015 article in New York magazine. It follows a group of cash-strapped strippers who begin hustling white and wealthy Wall Street brokers. The scam sees the strippers seducing their target, drugging them, and then maxing out their credit cards before they come to. It’s an icky scheme that seems to have the movie’s stamp of approval (at least up to a point).

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Set in 2007, Constance Wu plays Destiny, the central character and the movie’s conscience. She’s a young woman who goes to work at a strip club called Moves in order to make money to take care of her grandmother. The star act at Moves is Ramona (a game Jennifer Lopez) who is a mother hen to the other strippers and who takes Destiny under her wing.

Wu and Lopez drive the story forward and their characters are the only ones who keep the movie afloat. Wu is really good outside of the strip club but feels out of place during the club scenes (partly by design but not entirely). Lopez falls right into her role and gives an intensely convincing performance. Strangely the script shortchanges her character of some much deserved depth. We get small snippets of her personal life but that’s about it.

The rest of the cast feels completely interchangeable and pasted into the script. Cardi B plays a lewd, foul-mouthed professional lap-dancer who up and vanishes after the first act (It’s essentially a glorified cameo). Lili Reinhart shows plenty of zest but is tagged with a lame and endless vomit gag (after about the third upchuck a lady near me in the theater uttered “Okay, enough of that. It’s not funny“). Reinhart deserved better.

It was fun seeing Julia Stiles again. She plays a journalist interviewing Destiny in 2014 about the events seven years earlier. The bulk of the story is told within the framework of the interview where Destiny talks about first meeting Ramona and what led to their crimes. We learn that after the financial crisis of 2008 the strip club loses much of its high dollar clientele. This means less money for the ladies so Ramona, Destiny and their crew put their plan in motion.

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When Scafaria allows for more personal moments with her characters the movie hits its sweet spot. She also has a good sense of sisterhood and there are many times when that bond between the friends is palpable. But it doesn’t help to have such an over-reliance on slow-motion montages many of which resemble shots from a hip-hop video. It all begins to feel repetitive which is big reason the movie loses steam in the second half.

“Hustlers” is a hard movie to figure out. In many ways it champions the crimes of its high-heeled hoods and works hard to justify them. To a lesser effect it attempts to bring some degree of culpability (eventually) mainly through Wu’s character. She’s essential and without her few scenes of internal moral conflict this movie would be nothing more than a seedy fable built on the message ‘two wrongs make a right‘.

The wild acclaim for “Hustlers” got me thinking. Have we become so hungry for strong female-driven movies that we’ve lowered our standards and are willing to embrace certain films just because they check specific boxes? It’s an interesting question that should be rendered moot as more female-led stories are finally allowed to be told. It’s past time for that. But in the meantime “Hustlers” shouldn’t get a pass.

VERDICT – 2.5 STARS

2-5-stars

15 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Hustlers” (2019)

  1. I’m going to wait for it on TV though I’m really baffled by the idea of J-Lo getting an Oscar nod though I do think she’s a fine actress but not a great one. Plus, I’m not fooled by the rocks, the bling, the fancy cars, and all of that materialistic bullshit that she’s got. Not to mention that she is marrying someone who is a true equal to her as they’re both full of shit. I know people who are Yankees fans and they hate A-Rod.

    • J-Lo is really good here but I wouldn’t call it an Oscar caliber performance. And Hustlers is certainly not and Oscar caliber movie. As for A-Rod….ugh!!!

  2. Never a fan of J-Lo hype, but did like the idea of a bunch of strippers giving it to the Wall Street crooks. That seems to be what is driving this film to some degree. I will admit that she looks FANTASTIC for a 50+ something woman. It wasn’t the worst movie we saw in September, but it’s down there because it just doesn’t really execute as well as it could have given the salacious source material and cast.

    • I’m with you. J-Lo has never really been on my radar but she is quite good here. But as you said, it seems to be getting push simply because of the idea behind the story. But there really isn’t much depth to the whole thing and (as you mentioned) the execution should have been better.

  3. Yep, we did. Or critics sure did. Widows mostly sucked and it got a pass last year. I have not seen this one yet but I won’t surprised if it’s not anything amazing. On the other hand I rather see this get faux acclaim and earn money than Tarantino

    • I’m really glad to hear you say that! I try to be honest in everything I write, but I was starting to wonder if I was missing something. I thought Widows was okay but hardly acclaim worthy. I actually like this one less. In my opinion (for what it’s worth) women aren’t one-note people. They are full of layers and complexities. I’m 100% okay with movies like Hustlers existing. But heralding it as some anthem to female empowerment…nope. Women are more and deserve better.

      • The quality of these movies is small concern tho. Every single release that focuses on women has Insecure males troll it. Until it’s a regular normal thing for a lot of movies to focus on women, every single one is important and hopefully makes tons of money

      • Sadly it’s taking too much time to weed out these backwards thinking buffoons. Personally I want all kinds of stories to be told. To crap all over a movie just because it is a female’s story is the height of shallowness. But sadly it is still a reality.

  4. “Have we become so hungry for strong female-driven movies that we’ve lowered our standards and are willing to embrace certain films just because they check specific boxes?”

    I think, at the moment, with movies like this, Oceans 8, The Kitchen, this is true. But as you said, hopefully, the gimmicks disappear and these female-led films can really kill. Even Widows was pretty disappointing, though the acting certainly wasn’t. That could have been a supreme movie but it was the direction that was off, not the women. They killed it.

    Soon I think movies like this will increase in quality. But….

    If movies without a major female character are considered sexist by some… well, isn’t there a massive double-standard here? Does sexism really only go one way? I understand that the history of women’s rights plays a massive role, but still… I think intelligence should prevail, and a film only labeled sexist if its STORY truly is, not simply based on the cast. It’s such an overreaction and as absurd as labelling Dunkirk racist, which apparently was a thing. Somehow.

    Political correctness is eroding our language, and really, the next logical step in their thinking is censorship. I can’t say ‘retarded’ without being looked down upon. Soon there will be a fine for it. I dunno, I just don’t like the smell of political correctness and haven’t for the last ten years as it has gotten gradually worse.

    Sorry mate, another rant of a reply there for ya. Feel free to ignore or to reply to any actual relevant and cohesive points I may have made. I haven’t had any sleep =/

    • It’s weird because there are plenty of strong female stories out there that I would love to see told on the big screen. But it seems like a lot of people are content with calling movies like this “empowering”. It’s not a terrible film but it’s hardly a good representation of empowerment. Hopefully we will soon get more female-driven movies with the depth they deserve.

      • If anything they are the opposite of empowering, just tired concepts but having an all female cast as a gimmick. A movie with 5 male leads though would be labelled sexist by some crackpot neo-femenists, I put money on it, That double standard irritates me to no end since most of my friends are female and agree, but they’re the sensible kinda femenists, not these full on, everything a guy says is wrong crazy ones that are around now

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