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Thursday, December 26, 2019

Hustlers: A Highlight of 2019 Cinema



Both critically and at the box office, Hustlers made a splash in 2019.  Time named it one of the top ten movies of the year, and it grossed $150 million on a $20 million budget.  


Hustlers is based on a true story about strippers who fleece wealthy patrons of Scores Club in Manhattan.  In addition to Lopez, it stars Constance Wu and Julia Stiles, with appearances from Cardi B and Lizzo. 

Screenwriter and Director Lorene Scafaria adapted Hustlers from Jessica Pressler’s article, “The Hustlers at Scores” published in The Cut in 2015.  Pressler interviews Samantha Foxx and Roselyn Keo, who are the inspiration for the movie's fictional characters Ramona and Destiny (played by Lopez and Wu).  


I watched the movie two weeks ago, and here are my impressions.  (This review is somewhat spoiler-ey, btw.)  
  
Jennifer Lopez
The women in Hustlers didn't have cheap taste, that's for sure.

Overall Impressions 

Four years ago, Scafaria wrote and directed The Meddler, starring Rose Byrne and Susan Sarandon, about the complicated relationship between a meddling mother and her adult daughter.  

She had the budget to get much flashier in Hustlers (a $20 million budget verus $3 million), and works with a much larger cast.  I loved the lavish fur coats, glitzy make-up, and dramatic hairstyles.  Cardi B and Lizzo play small but notable roles.    

Lopez, as Ramona, steals the show at the beginning with a solo pole-dancing scene.  In the following scene she's instructing the ingenue and newest Scores employee, Destiny (Wu). 

Scafaria demonstrates the same ability to develop characters with nuance: Ramona, while the ringleader of a criminal operation, is also a protective mother.  And Destiny is responsible and conscientious, yet illicit--she only hires "stand-up" women to help fleece the men. 

The movie jumps from Destiny telling her story to a reporter (the fictional Pressler, played by Stiles) to flashbacks at Scores, where she and Ramona developed a business partnership drugging then ripping off men. 

Many scenes and dialogue in the movie follow Pressler's article precisely.  Apparently, however, Foxx and Keo weren’t in fact pole dancers.  

The flashbacks, unfortunately, form a superficial retelling.  For example, Pressler reports that many men at Scores wanted to take care of Destiny like a father or husband.  In the movie, this translates into a brief scene where one man compliments Destiny on her handwriting.  I didn’t sense any of his emotional commitment until much later when she calls him asking for money--nor get the idea that she had dozens of such committed men. 

I wish Hustlers had developed the Destiny character earlier.  In the article we know immediately that she was abandoned as a child by her Cambodian-refugee parents and left to be raised by her grandmother.  This is finally mentioned an hour into the movie, after we’ve spent tons of time with the character--but not invested time.

The screenplay sets you up for things that don’t entirely pay off: at the onset Destiny tell the reporter she was naïve and didn’t know who Ramona really was—leading me to think Ramona would reveal a double side and lead Destiny awry.  
Yet, it turns out Destiny led herself awry.  She was never conned or deceived about what she was getting into.  

And scenes that should have felt full of suspense, including a sting where Ramona and Destiny were set-up to drug a man then fleece him, fell flat.


A MeToo Movie?  

On its surface, Hustlers is very much of-the-moment.  Released exactly two years after the Weinstein sexual assault accusations that spearheaded the MeToo movement, it’s a true story about women ripping off men, written and directed by a woman, and starring women.  Plus, it features female musicians—Lourde’s “Royals” plays in a memorable montage. 


The post-MeToo world is one where the power dynamic between women and men has been questioned, reevaluated, and shifted.  

But Hustlers only reinforces the status-quo. 

Ramona and Destiny exploit their lowly position as strippers—they know their victims will be written off as fools and weaklings by the cops and society.  
“You let a stripper steal from you?  Ha ha ha.”  

The man who finally DID incriminate them only managed to with much persistence and irrefutable evidence--initially he was ignored by the cops.   

And capitalizing on being the plankton of society--surviving at the bottom of the food chain--isn’t exactly what the MeToo movement is about.

Jo-Lo as Oscar Contendor  

Much has been discussed about Lopez being a force to be reckoned with at the Oscars.  To no one’s surprise, her performance includes a killer pole-dancing scene, and she convincingly portrays Ramona as a powerful, complex woman. 


However, having seen both Hustlers and Marriage Story, I don’t see how she could win against Laura Dern for Best Supporting Actress. 

Perhaps simply due to a great screenplay, Dern’s performance in Marriage Story outshines.  She, too, is an impossible-to-really-get-at character, with a hilarious and unhinged monologue.  

Honestly, I liked Wu’s performance as the naïve-girl-gone-bad and protegé of Vega.  

Stiles is wooden and unemotional as always.  But that made sense in her role as the reporter.       

The fashion is really the stand-out feature of Hustlers.  If it’s nominated for anything, it should for Best Costume and Best Make-up and Hairstyle.

My Recommendation

I really enjoyed Hustlers.  If you’re up for some great acting, an interesting true story, and extravagant clothing, give this a shot.  It’s available to stream on Amazon.

I like movies with a lot of women in the cast, for obvious reasons.  And though stripping isn’t my cup of tea, I didn’t find it too off-putting.  

Your Fave 2019 Movies

Did you see Hustlers?  What did you think?  What stood out in 2019 Cinema to you?  

2 comments

  1. Wow what an in depth review. It is frustrating when films that could be great are only good. It sounds interesting. Yes on can judge them but until you walk in someone else's shoes those judgements are hollow. Thanks for the recommendation!

    Allie of
    www.allienyc.com

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  2. Oooh I haven't watched Hustlers before but it is great that it went up there! I really need to check it out, especially with Constance Wu having an appearance in the movie. You can't go wrong with dramatic looks, hehe. J-Lo is skill rocking it!! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the movie. Happy New Year!

    Nancy ♥ exquisitely.me

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