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Magic Mica: A Review Of 'Hustlers'

Writer-director Lorene Scafaria comes up trumps with ‘Hustlers,’ hitting the sweet spot that films like ‘Magic Mike’ and ‘Ocean’s 8’ aspired for, but didn’t quite get right

Kudos to writer-director Lorene Scafaria for giving us Hustlers, a true crime drama that gets the tone right, knows what it wants to say, doesn’t glamorize the blue collar personalities of its female protagonists, and avoids the pitfalls that films such as Magic Mike and Ocean’s 8 succumbed to. Based on a 2015 expose/report that was published on The Cut, Hustlers is a cautionary tale that knows when to provide shafts of dark humor, and when to remind us of the folly of the acts committed by our intrepid gang of strippers.

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Lili Reinhart, Jennifer Lopez, Keke Palmer, and Constance Wu | STXfilms

The premise of the film has to do with a group of private dancers working in a Manhattan strip club. We’re introduced to Chinese-American Destiny (Constance Wu), who’s taking care of her grandmother; and the veteran stripper Ramona (Jennifer Lopez), who befriends Destiny and inducts her into the world of petty scams on the CEO’s, investment bankers, and stock brokers who frequent the club.

It’s when the financial crisis hits, that the girls are forced to be more creative and aggressive with their modus operandi, dangerously flitting across the line of criminal activity. While Constance Wu’s Destiny is the closest we have to the film’s moral compass, it’s J.Lo’s Ramona that surprises and keeps our attention. The likes of Lili Reinhart, Cardi B, Lizzo, and Keke Palmer portray the other strippers in the club, and it’s nice how the screenplay provides each with individual flourishes.

There’s one super funny sequence that involves recording star Usher; and you’ll love how director Scafaria brings home the camaraderie enjoyed by the girls—the Christmas party scene is the best example of this layering to make us understand these girls better.

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Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez | STXfilms

Todd Banhazi of music video fame handles the cinematography—he was behind Janelle Monae’s “Dirty Computer” video. The club scenes, with neon predominant, is the right mix of sleaze and fun, while the scenes shot outside the club, have the right degree of Manhattan gritty and “verité.”

Funny, naughty, and always entertaining, Hustlers knows how to pace itself, and display the kinship and esprit de corps these “night shift” workers share. It rightfully does not put these stripclub dancers on some pedestal—they’re matter of factly our main focus, the prism through which we’re given a glimpse of how tough life became when the crash happened, and dire financial straits hit the working class. I’d be careful to attribute more to the film—some have mentioned women empowerment, and I feel that’s overstating it, and ironically, ignoring the occupation of these girls. 

What the film does successfully, is depict the lives of these girls, and help us comprehend how they took that next step to something that would pique the attention of law enforcers. That it does so while entertaining, is to the credit of Scafaria, and the engaging performances of the cast.

Hustlers is out in theaters nationwide.