Hustlers has been one of 2019’s favourite films since its theatrical release in September. Inspired by a true story, Lorene Scafaria’s crime drama follows the breath-taking and Robinhoodesque adventures of a wild bunch of strip-club dancers as they go into crime to avenge themselves on the rich guys of Wall Street. Charming us with enthralling firework performances, lead actresses Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu play a major role in making audiences fall in love with Hustlers. Maybe even more than we’d actually like to.
They say that diamonds are a girl’s best friend, and, if we take but a swift look at the aggrandizement greed of J-Lo and Constance Wu’s wild bunch in Hustlers, we are inclined to believe so. Jenny from the block and Crazy Rich Asians-star Wu teamed up to bring the ultimate all-pink revenge movie to the screen: based on a true story, Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers brings to the fore the story of Destiny (Wu) and Ramona (Lopez), two off-the-leash strip-club showgirls who meet in the golden years of pre-2008 stock market crash. Both second-generation immigrants with a fierce desire for independence, Ramona and Destiny work hard to earn their (quite luxurious) livings using their best weapons – the female bodies nature has gifted them with.
However, as the economic downturn sets in, our heroines have to smart up and adjust to the self-drawn rules of foul play to bite harder than Wall Street sharks and take from the rich to give to themselves. So, diamond and riches obviously play a major role in the film’s narrative economy. But so does the bond of love and friendship that unites Ramona and Destiny and makes the two of them stick together in the face of adversity.
In fact, Hustlers has the flavour of a male-team vs female-team match rather than the obsolete smell of rich vs poor. Lopez and Wu’s Robinhoodesque characters never act on their own. Instead, they put together a veritable all-women family to support each other, labelling men as a mere means to an end. As Wu’s voice-over reminds us at the very beginning of the film, everything is about power. Everything is about control. And Hustlers’ hugely enjoyable Hollywood-inspired editing and epic soundtrack are clearly meant to make the audience wonder about which side is in control: that side is women, and they have nothing to account for in a world where men gaze at them as they were looking at some rare animal caged in a zoo. And gazers is what men are in Hustlers, where they are literally doing nothing but staring at their laptops and hoping not to lose their faces to the underground conspiracies of their female counterparts.
Once more, we find ourselves placing our bets on the baddies. We hope the pretenders will succeed. We want to see the real evil ones be devoured by hell’s fire. But that’s not the most controversial bit about Hustlers, which boils down to a movie we can enjoy thanks to well-established cinema industry formulas designed to make us acquiesce to stories we might want to question if taken out of context. I’m a woman, so trust me when I say that there’s something sneakily empowering in the way everybody is presented as powerful and sexy and beautiful. Something that makes you really wish for Ramona and Destiny’s kind of life. At the same time, though, I think we should ask ourselves whether or not this is really the game we wish to be playing. Whether or not this one-sidedness is the way in which we’d like to confront the MeToo era and the deadly serious issues that lie at the bottom of it.
And please don’t get me wrong. I believe we should celebrate women as much as we should celebrate every living being because, last time I checked, women were living beings. And if battle of the sexes shall be, at least let’s let the old but gold screwballs have their ways – men and women mockingly fighting each other on equal terms so that everyone could get their wicked satisfaction in the end. So, once again, don’t get me wrong. I think Hustlers is a great movie, a dangerously enjoyable shot of your favourite drug. It’s one of those movies you can do nothing but have fun while watching, and a firework celebration of Hollywood-style narrative and canons before than a celebration of the female right to self-determination. That’s why I can’t help but like Hustlers. That’s why I can’t help but be suspicious of Wu and Lopez’s unexpectedly smooth and charming performances, and of the fast-striding events of the plot as well. That’s how you make a blockbuster even when you don’t officially belong to the world of the majors. That’s how old paternalistic Hollywood’s heritage lives on in one last throw of the dice.
Hustlers is now available to buy on DVD in the U.S., and will be released in the U.K. and worldwide in January.