Women turning the tables on men is the hot topic of the last couple years. Men, snowflakes that they are, have started complaining, so the very wise women behind Hustlers found a most delightful way to make them face their comeuppance: cast Jennifer Lopez as a stripper, and watch the bills fly!
Lopez is Ramona, the headline act at a Manhattan strip club (which, wait, strip clubs have headliners?), and she’s introduced wrecking a stripper pole like it was Ben Affleck’s reputation, to the adulation of all. Though a younger dancer, played by Constance Wu, relates the story through a post-mortem interview, this movie revolves around Ramona, as it should. It’s hard to find an actress who can enter every room in slow motion, so an icon is required, and Hustlers makes the most out of the two decades of JLo-ness Ms Lopez brings with her.
Sex-lioness Ramona is transformed into mama-bear Ramona in the very next scene, when she’s found up on the club’s roof, warmly cuddling new girl Wu in her coat. We know Ramona has a dark side, though, because the coat looks like a dead polar bear. These two Ramonas, the nurturing and the predatory, will see-saw for the rest of the movie, and due to the finesse with which Lopez and director Lorene Scafaria (who also wrote the screenplay) pull it off, this conflict is even more engrossing than the criminal activity the strippers engage in.
Though Ramona does comment that the money her band of con-artist lap-ladies steal is coming from nasty Wall Street men who stole that money themselves, the movie refrains from painting the women as Robin Hoods, or their victims as examples of toxic masculinity who deserve what they get. The marks are mostly bro-y ciphers, outmatched by Ramona’s savvy.
In fact, considering all the body glitter, the movie takes a surprisingly sober view on most proceedings. When the criminal gang gather to exchange gifts at the holidays, we expect to see at least one sentimental offering, even if it’s a girl’s first g-stringed dollar, framed in a shadowbox. But as we watch each present opened, what we get instead is an escalating assortment of luxury goods, starting at a pair of heels “with those red bottoms, gurll” and culminating in a chinchilla coat. It’s an honest admission of what these women, with their histories, would want out of their windfall, and when the film comes across other opportunities for formulaic cheese, they are promptly squashed with a smart script and a Vuitton purse.
Martin Scorcese was originally approached to direct Hustlers, and Adam McKay, writer/director of The Big Short and Vice, wisely took a back seat as producer. Can you imagine all that testosterone all over this particular story? Yuk. Instead, thank goddess, Lopez, her female producing partner Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, and Scafaria looked at these female characters with their eyes in the right place, and we got a movie that’s as smart as it is a blast to watch. And you won’t hear a better final line out of any other movie this year.
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