Money, ambition and misguided righteousness collide in Lorene Scafaria’s sizzling Hustlers with incredible performances and a banging soundtrack, based on a New York magazine piece by journalist Jessica Pressler.
Dorothy (Constance Wu) is the newest dancer at Scores Strip Club, trying to earn enough money to support her grandmother when she in taken under the wing of veteran Ramona (Jennifer Lopez). As the boom of 2007 draws to a close Dorothy, Ramona and the rest of the dancers that include Mercedes (Keke Palmer), Liz (Lizzo) and Diamond (Cardi B) are enjoying the money they are able to squeeze from the Wall Street bankers that haunt the club night after night.
After the recession, everything changes. No longer able to rely on the regulars coming in every night, Ramona invites Dorothy to take part in “fishing” – finding men in bars and enticing them into the strip club and then getting a cut of their spend. When this proves not as lucrative as first hoped, the women start to use drugs to ensure they get the money they feel has been stolen by the rich and denied to them.
Jennifer Lopez, the fearless and confident Ramona is the shining standout amongst a cast of truly incredible actresses. Arriving with a bang and a fearless, incredible dance to Fiona Apple’s ‘Criminal’, the smack of her killer heels against the floor announces her presence as a force to reckoned with. At the heart of the film is her relationship with Dorothy, a mentorship that grows from friendship to sisterhood, as her and Constance Wu react to each other with such a warmness and love it is hard not to be moved by the trajectory it takes when their actions catch up with them.
Hustlers doesn’t gloss over the darker aspects of the lifestyle Dorothy and the others are engaged in, nor does it excuse the actions they take to get rich – it simply explains them and allows you to make your own judgement. This is also perfectly balanced with lighter moments to temper the drama: the “it’s Britney, bitch” dance along in a car showroom, the warmth and love surrounding a happy Christmas, Ramona in nothing but heels, sequins and a fur coat smoking on a New York roof in winter.
The film spans several years, from their initial meeting in 2007 to 2014 as Jessica Pressler’s (Julia Stiles) interview with Dorothy guides the narrative. Scafaria uses a combination of voiceovers over difference scenes, the crackle of an undercover mike is combined with a character’s dialogue, a phone conversation, slightly muffled and emotive, follows the final scenes.
It wouldn’t be inaccurate to call Hustlers a period piece. The use of music, the hairstyles, props and outfits all feel like something from the distance past, even though it was just under ten years ago. There are brilliant needle drops throughout that manage to perfectly fit the scene without it ever feeling contrived, including an enthusiastic group dance to ‘Love in the Club’ with an Usher cameo, which is glorious but tinged with a hint of sadness as the good times come to a close.
Watch Hustlers, marvel in its brilliance, blast the hits from 2007 and get behind J-Lo for the that Best Supporting Oscar. It’s going to be a good year.