From: Silver Screen
"Hustlers" humanizes through humor but still has a few missing puzzle pieces
The reveal of the staggering cast of “Hustlers,” including Jennifer Lopez, Cardi B, Constance Wu, Lizzo, Keke Palmer and many others, had audiences ready for an empowering movie filled with drama, crime and a whole lot of fun. Do the personalities of these titanic stars translate from the trailers to the big screen? While the immediate answer is a resounding “yes,” some things are disappointingly left at surface level.
“Hustlers,” directed by Lorene Scafaria, tells the true story of a stripper, Destiny (Constance Wu), as her life is dramatically altered when she meets Ramona (Jennifer Lopez), the matron of the strip club where she would like to work. The relationship between the two begins with a simple pole dancing lesson, which quickly turns into a deep familial friendship as they become literal partners in crime. They have a family of accomplices, Annabelle (Lili Reinhart) and Mercedes (Keke Palmer), doing increasingly wilder and more dangerous things as the years go by; and yet they want these women to succeed, get all the money in the world, and not face any consequences.
Scafaria and the strong, female-dominated cast are able to portray this story in a way that many films in the past have failed to do, choosing to celebrate strippers rather than marginalize or villainize them. In “Hustlers,” they have families, they have pasts, they just want to be happy like everyone else. Scafaria spends a lot of time in the film putting the camera as close as possible to the actresses’ faces, allowing the audience to take in every expression of emotion that the characters are feeling while they scheme, celebrate, fight and fall. Montages of stripping practices, shopping excursions and suspect kitchen activities are backed with classical music, elevating these moments—traditionally seen as indulgent and seedy—as art forms that require as much brilliance as the music that underscores them. Wu and Lopez provide especially powerful performances that bring us into their world, making us empathize with their struggles, cheer for their successes and feel heartbroken over their downfalls.
On paper, “Hustlers” does exactly what one expects it to do, humanizing a group of strippers in a fun, humorous and action-packed way. However, while the film brings important subjects to light, it only scratches the surface. We do not know the history of why Ramona is the intense matriarch that she is today, or why she is so angry at men she swindles. We do not see if anybody ever second guesses their decisions or ever feel any remorse. We do not see the quiet moments or poignant conversations between the group that make them care about one another so much and call each other family.If one thinks hard enough about the story, the motivation, history, and consistency of the characters is lost.
It is hard to fit approximately eight years of storytelling into one hour and fifty minutes of cinema, but Scafaria does a phenomenal job in garnering the right emotions and reactions through her storytelling. However, the viewer has to fill the gaps themselves. Whether you’re simply looking for a fun movie night or the opportunity to open up a conversation about the stigma around strippers, crime and how far one will go for the people they love, “Hustlers” delivers both.
“Hustlers” will be released in theaters Friday, September 13