When I was preparing for the Fall Movie Preview podcast I do with David Healy I kept getting the new film Hustlers confused with the recent film The Kitchen. The connection is understandable with both movies being about groups of women who turn the system on its head and commit crimes together. Frankly I wish both movies were stronger, but I definitely prefer Hustlers of the two. It at least has a consistent tone and characters with some depth to them.
Hustlers tells the true story of a group of exotic dancers who band together to steal from the Wall Street clients who frequent their establishment. Obviously this film has a lot of very sexy dancing so it will not be for everyone. However, most of the R rated content is confined to the club scenes and it is kept rather clinical in feel rather than erotic (because it is being told from the women’s perspective and it is not an erotic activity for them, just a job).
Anyway, the first half of the movie sets up our characters particularly Constance Wu as Destiny and Jennifer Lopez as Ramona. At first things are going great with everyone helping everyone else to make a lot of money. Unfortunately the stock market crash happens in 2008 and the dancers become more desperate as the stock brokers have less money.
The first half of Hustlers looked impressive with some good performances from Wu and Lopez but it was very repetitive with not enough story. We didn’t need to see scene after scene of the way things were before 2008. I wish they had done more to flesh out the characters of both Ramona and Destiny away from the club. They both end up having daughters, but we hardly get to know anything about them as mothers or how they balance work with raising their children. Just anything other than party, dance, rinse, repeat.
However, in the second half the plot to drug and swindle the Wall Street men starts and it can be quite compelling and funny. It’s the kind of movie that feels like it should have been a 44 minute television show instead of a feature film. Unfortunately, even in the more compelling sections it is very repetitive. Girl meets man in bar, take man to club, steal from him and then move on. There’s a Christmas scene, which is the best part of the movie, where we get to see their personalities and what actual joy means to them but so often the script is very repetitive.
While I don’t know about Oscar-worthy, Wu and Lopez are good in their roles (the Academy loves giving Oscars to actors who play strippers/prostitutes for some reason). They have a nice chemistry together and feel like a natural fit for their characters (with the exception of Wu’s terrible wig!). Some of the other characters are perhaps made to look more significant in the trailer than they actually are. Cardi B and Lizzo, for example, are really just glorified cameos. Still Destiny and Ramona are flawed interesting characters and there are some really great moments with the two of them.
A movie like Hustlers is where the rottentomatoes dichotomy fails me as a critic. It was ok. The performances are good and it looks nice. The story is interesting, but I wasn’t crazy about the narrative device of Julia Stiles’ interviewing Wu, and the script is very repetitive. It’s a real mixed bag, but I certainly didn’t hate it. If you are someone who thinks capitalism is evil than you will probably enjoy it as a revenge piece more than I did. But even so, I want more than just seeing Wall Street men getting drugged. I want more of these women’s story!!
Still I’d say it is worth seeing for the good performances but manage your expectations. It’s no disaster like The Kitchen but no masterpiece of female empowerment either.
5.5 out of 10
Smile Worthy (barely)