Hustlers (Lorene Scafaria, US) — Gala Presentations

By Daniel Reynolds

Maybe this is my male gaze talking, but if Hustlers was made purely to satisfy Jennifer Lopez’s desire to show she’s still got it at 50, well, fine, I accept that. The film, written and directed by Lorene Scafaria, has other things it wants to say about financial crime, our cruel capitalistic society, and even the gendering of consequences—but it also puts Lopez at centre stage in its opening minutes for an arresting dance number. No amount of hand-wringing from co-star Constance Wu or broader social commentary can top that as a cinematic moment.

That’s not to say that there’s no story here. Based on the 2015 magazine article by Jessica Pressler (played here in all but name by a credulous Julia Stiles), Hustlers follows the rise-and-fall narrative of a group of exotic dancers who decide, post-2008 market crisis, to extract cash from finance dudes via less than legal means: they lure them in, drug them, then rip them off. What are they going to do, Lopez’s Ramona reasons: call the cops? Along for this wild ride as the wide-eyed ingénue, Wu’s Destiny goes through a believable hardening transformation, even if she remains thin as a character. (The all-too-brief stunt-casting of Cardi B and Lizzo elicits a good question: what if they had starred?) True to its title, Hustlers races through its story, often only skimming what could have been its richest material; the muddled pacing doesn’t give it much chance to exceed its gender-flipping novelty.

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