Film Review: Hustlers

Frances Winston reviews this film based on a true story, starring Jennifer Lopez

Directed by: Lorene Scafaria –  Starring: Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Lizzo, Cardi B

Films set in the world of strip-clubs haven’t traditionally fared well. Even the hype of casting Demi Moore couldn’t save Striptease. Burlesque was a total let-down. And the less said about Showgirls the better!

So you’d imagine actors would be wary of signing on the line for any movie set in that world. Not so J-Lo, who brings her star-power and (let’s be honest) stunning figure to this tale of a group of strippers who fleece money from Wall Street hot-shots, following the stock market crash.

Based on a true story, unlike the aforementioned flicks, this benefits hugely from the presence of a female director. When we first meet Ramona (Lopez) as she takes to the pole, there is nothing sleazy about it. She is graceful and gazelle-like. Taking new girl, Destiny (Wu) under her wing, she shows her how to maximise her income by using the right moves. Pretty soon, they are rolling in ‘the green’.

But when business slows down following the financial crisis, Ramona comes up with a plan to drug and rob some of their still-wealthy former regulars. In next to no time, they’ve gone from pole-dancers to criminal masterminds, managing a carefully orchestrated and successful scam.

This is actually a pretty extraordinary story. The screenplay was also written by director, Scafaria, and she definitely has little sympathy for the women’s victims. Although they are breaking the law, you find yourself really rooting for them. Two wrongs may not make a right, but your loyalties definitely lie more with the thieving women than the greedy money-men here.

J-Lo completely and utterly shines as Ramona. She manages to portray both her steeliness and her vulnerability, and makes her extremely likeable. Wu as Destiny proves a worthy partner in crime. The pair of them bounce off each other as if they really were old friends, and she has some wonderful stand-alone scenes with Stiles also.

Although Lizzo and Cardi B are credited as main cast, this is really more stunt-casting. They have little to do, and if you blink you’d almost miss them! Although when they are on screen they acquit themselves well. In fact, the only character that doesn’t have much in the way of substance is Julia Stiles’ journalist, Elizabeth. She merely serves as a catalyst for Destiny to tell the story, and is completely one-dimensional.

Scafaria has done a great job juxtaposing the sleaziness of the strip-clubs with the lavish lifestyles they find themselves living. She has also paced this brilliantly, ensuring you never get bored. The only somewhat disconcerting thing is that there are a couple of songs on the soundtrack that aren’t of the era. While most people probably won’t notice, a pedant like me found it somewhat annoying.

That aside, this is beautifully crafted, gorgeously shot and boasts some stellar performances. It’s a roller coaster from start to finish. In the hands of a male director, I’ve no doubt this would have been a very different movie. But thankfully girl-power won out.

If you like your crime thrillers high-octane and oozing trashy glamour, then you’ll love this. Even if you don’t, you’ll find this great fun.

In Cinemas Now!

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The new LGBT magazine; available online, for download and on podcast. It's time for another view.
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