Pop Culture

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:

Title: Hustlers

Describe This Movie In One Grosse Pointe Blank Quote:

GROCER: Workers of the world, unite! 

Brief Plot Synopsis: Strippers swap hearts of gold for gold cards.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: 3.5 Stevie Wonders out of 5.

Tagline: "Inspired by a true story."

Better Tagline: "The BABFL of Wall Street"

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Dorothy (Constance Wu), AKA "Destiny," is having a hard time learning the ropes at her new strip club, until veteran dancer Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) shows her the ropes. The two earn a lucrative living from the biggest of Wall Street fish, but when the economy crashes and upends the industry, the pair decide to turn the tables and start robbing their clients.

"Critical" Analysis:
 The 2008 financial crisis was cataclysmic across almost all economic sectors, but while previous movies tended to focus on the financial arena (Margin Call, The Big Short), Lorene Scafaria's Hustlers may be the first to examine its marginalizing effect on an already marginalized group of workers.

Scafaria, best known for writing heart-on-their sleeves movies like Nick & Nora's Infinite Playlist and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, adapts a New York Magazine story that takes a much more cynical (and arguably realistic) view of the modern world. Hustlers is a solid effort, though its impact is dulled somewhat by its lack of subtlelty.

One of the things working in Scafaria's behavior is the lens through which she views the action. Strip clubs have always figured prominently in movies (it seemed like a studio requirement in the '80s), but with a few exceptions (Ramona's first dance, which serves both as her introduction and a possibly fantastical recollection by Destiny), scenes are shot less exploitatively. We get the dancers's perspectives of their clients, and to say they're largely unflattering is a bit of an understatement.

To that point, the shots juxtaposing the stippers plying their trade with Wall Street traders in action is no less effective for their obviousness. Still, give Scafaria credit for being the first to put the oft-voiced comparison between high finance and bump-and-grind on the big screen.

The portrayal of Wall Street as evil here is also something that needs to continue. Ramona rationalizing that the dudes they rip off have it coming doesn't entirely hold up when they range away from their usual client base and end up snaring some hapless dudes who aren't rich, but it's hard to find fault with her original assertion that they're simply doing to these guys what they've been doing to all of us for years.

As Ramona, Lopez is probably the best she's been since Out of Sight (or at least Anaconda). That said, it's not a fairly broad performance, only hinting at depth in the third act when conflict arises between Ramona and Destiny over decisions made by the former.

It also needs to be noted that Lopez is 50 freaking years old.

It doesn't help that Ramona's past is fairly engimatic until the end, while Destiny's unhappy childhood (and subsequent devotion to her grandmother) informs her character, and also explains her attachment to Ramona, the big sister she never had.

Hustlers is inevitably going to get comparisons to Scorsese, especially in the second and third acts, thanks to the subject matter, locale, and framing of the investigation scenes. Then there's the soundtrack, initially heavy on stripper friendly artists like Usher and Big Sean, then switching to Frankie Valli and Bob Seger. It's not a fatal flaw, but still comes across as derivative.

Andrew Dominik's superlative 2012 film, Killing Them Softly, is also framed by the financial crisis. In it, Brad Pitt's character remarks that America's a business, and you're on your own. Ramona says much the same thing at the end of Hustlers. The former might be a better movie, but both are accurate in their estimation of our nation, and what's increasingly required to get ahead in it.
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar