Lorene Scarfaria’s Hustlers may seem trivial or even trashy due to its stripper-led premise, but with layers of meaning and emotion, the film is one of the most stand-out flicks released this summer.
The film follows struggling stripper Destiny (Constance Wu), who’s trying to make ends meet while also taking care of her Nana (Wang Ching Ho). After being swept under the fur-coat-adorned wing of the resourceful Ramona (Jennifer Lopez), Destiny delves into the major leagues of stripping, Wall Street and, you guessed it — hustling.
Based off a viral New York Magazine article from Jessica Pressler, the film aligns itself with the rise and subsequent fall of Wall Street — and the entire country — during and after the 2008 recession. After the strip club loses its wealthy clients and the strippers themselves lose their affluent incomes, Ramona and her crew take things into their own hands. Ramona, Destiny and fellow strippers Mercedes (Keke Palmer) and Annabelle (Lili Reinhart) decide to enact their revenge by drugging wealthy men in order to steal their money.
Scarfaria mirrors the Wall Street bigwigs against the four women, making the claim that business is business—whether it’s legal or not. Lopez’s character said it best, saying, “This county, this entire country, is a strip club. You’ve got people tossing the money, and people doing the dancing.”
There’s something refreshing about the film being directed by a woman. Given the plot, there’s the potential to oversexualize stripping but Scarfaria instead celebrates it and paints it like any other job. In fact, the way the film is portrayed, the men who are being scammed and drugged are deemed pathetic and gross.
Adding to Scarfaria’s exquisite directing, Lopez gives a career-defining performance. Between her stone-cold stripping demeanor where she weasels enough money out of men to afford a high-rise in New York City and her contrasting tender, almost motherly affection toward Destiny, Lopez shines and shows off her acting chops for those that may have forgotten her talent.
Furthermore, the film’s soundtrack elevates the film. Whether it’s Lopez’s pole dance to Fiona Apple’s “Criminal,” the classical tunes of Chopin, the energizing beats of Usher’s “Love in This Club” or the melancholy doo-wop of Charlie Rich’s “The Best Years,” the music tuned each scene to perfection.
Over the course of its 110 minutes, Hustlers becomes more than a film about criminal strippers. It’s a film about the consequences of greed, and the struggle to stay afloat in a society so set against those that work hard. Sure, Hustlers is a fun flick, but behind the Louboutins, big houses and nice cars, the film is a look into the middle class, the ties of family and the bond of sisterhood at its core.