I walked out of the theater extremely high on this film. I think I even leaned over to my wife and said, “I’ve never seen a female stripper movie that strives to portray authentic characters. This may do a lot to destigmatize stripping as a profession.” But a week later I find that little from this movie actually stayed with me.
Exactly like “The Wolf of Wall Street”, I believe “Hustlers” works primarily because of its direction. Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria (adapted from a 2015 magazine article written by Jessica Pressler) “Hustlers” is a true crime drama about a group of female strippers who (post-financial crisis, circa 2007-2008), devise a plan to steal money from their Wall Street clients.
The directional choices in “Hustlers” will be the only reason anyone remembers this movie in five years. From the opening long-take which moves us from the dressing room to the strip club stage, to every sequence in the club and bars, to the decision to modify and even cut the audio during crucial moments in the film, it all screams of a great big Martin Scorsese homage. She also does a great job of portraying an authentic strip club experience, mostly by accentuating the three dimensional supporting cast, played by Keke Palmer, Cardi B, Lili Reinhart and even Lizzo. And while most of these supporting characters don’t stick around for longer than an hour, this touch really helped create a bond between the audience and a fictitious group of stigmatized women.
Other than the direction, the standouts here were the leads, Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez (both for entirely different reasons). Wu’s performance is the strongest. She definitely has to cover more ground, beginning as someone who (naive to the aggressive world of city strip clubs) takes a job in a strip club in order to support her grandmother, and evolving into a “hustler” (not a spoiler. You know where this story is going the entire time. It’s in the damn title). Wu is particularly strong here, taking advantage of her arc and showing off her versatility as an actress. Lopez on the other hand simply solidifies herself as a triple-threat. For an actress who hasn’t done anything on the big screen that anybody has cared about in nearly a decade (and that’s being generous) she walks on screen and instantly takes over. Not to say that Lopez is a great actress, but it is quite undeniable that she has the ability to walk into a room and command attention.
Final Thought: “Magic Mike” is still the best stripper movie ever made, by a long shot. But unlike “Striptease” or “Showgirls”, at the very least “Hustlers will reignite a conversation that was long thought of to be a joke. Non-exploitative movies about female and/or male strippers can be done.
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