“Hurt people hurt people….the whole world is a strip club…sleep is where and when it happens.”
I knew that Lorene Scafaria‘s Hustlers (STX, 9.13) was a cut above immediately. I mean within five or ten seconds. I could tell that the focus was honest, intimate, up close, and that Scafaria and the actresses were keeping it real as the material allowed. And so I relaxed and settled in.
The first act of Hustlers isn’t so much about the bods and the flash and the cash (although it is) as what the dancer characters — played by Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Lizzo and Cardi B — are feeling and grappling with, about the move-it-or-lose-it grind of working at a top-tier Manhattan strip club and how the dancers are all coping with insufficient pay and the constant company of Wall Street “assholes.”
I’ve put quotes around that word because it’s an oft-supplied description from the dancers who were interviewed by Jessica Pressler for her 2015 article (“The Hustlers at Scores“), which inspired Scafaria’s script.
Julia Stiles plays the Pressler character (“Elizabeth”).
I read Pressler’s 2015 article when I got home, and so I know the ins and outs and most of the particulars. Some sharp women decided to turn the tables on the stock traders and Wall Street patrons by getting them drunk and taking them for as much dough as they could, running their credit cards behind their inebriated backs while doing lap dances and flashing their boobs and (I gather) offering private-room blowjobs. Until the scam reached the ears and eyes of the fuzz, and then it all fell apart, charges were filed and the girls had to pay the price.
The fact that this is Scafaria’s most likable and engaging film thus far may be interpreted in some corners as damnation with faint praise. I don’t mean it that way. I simply didn’t care for the premise or the vibe of Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, which Scafaria directed and wrote. I half-liked her follow-up effort, The Meddler, a mother-daughter drama with Susan Sarandon and Rose Byrne, but not enough to write anything about it. But for what it is, Hustlers hits the spot.
Hustlers enjoyed a wowser reception a few days ago at the Toronto International Film Festival. It was applauded for its humanity, spirit, efficiency and general enjoyment factor. Tribune News Service’s Katie Walsh called it “girlie Goodfellas“. On top of which Lopez was talked up as a possible Best Actress contender. In my opinion Constance Wu gives the best performance but the hype machine wants what it wants.
This morning a colleague said that he respected Hustlers “but the film is half music video.” Yeah, I said, but it’s nonetheless focused on the interior lives of the principal dancer characters. And the embezzlement stuff was offered as just and fair could because the marks were assholes — wealthy Wall Street greedheads (indistinguishable from the Wolf of Wall Street guys). Oh, and by the way I blinked and missed poor Frank Whaley.”
The heat that Hustlers got out of Toronto was, I believe, partly if not significantly driven by p.c. factors. It’s a kind of “you go, girl” revenge flick…get those assholes, take their fucking money, fuck those guys, they hurt others to we’re going to hurt them (“Hurt people hurt people”)…yes, yes, yes! Mainly because there’s no cultural group more loathed and despised in this Trumpian age than greedy, swaggering, entitled white guys in pricey suits…three of them are murdered in a subway in Joker and here they’re being fleeced and scamboozled and that’s fine because they FUCKING DESERVE IT!
Hustlers is therefore hitching a ride on the politically correct train of the moment, a cultural current that champions gutsy underdog women (or people of color or LBGTQ or what-have-you) and celebrates an act of revenge upon the Smug-Ugly White Assholes of the world.
It’s a nicely done film and Scafaria got it right, I think, but it was WAY overpraised in Toronto, and…hold on, this is JLo’s best role ever? Maybe her most enjoyable performance or the most culturally on-target role she’s ever played, but she’s just inhabiting a smart, sassy operator who’s out to get what she can, while she can. I think she played a more interesting person in Out of Sight (i.e. Karen Cisco) but that’s me.
Confession: I fell asleep about 35 or 40 minutes into Hustlers. Not because it was a problem (far from it) but…I don’t know why. Because I’m sleep deprived. Because I work too hard and I should have taken a mid-afternoon nap. Then again I chug-a-lugged an Orangeade-flavored monster roughly an hour before the screening began and then a cappuccino with an extra shot. And then I splashed my face with water. I was all jazzed up and really wanted to sink into this. I’m not happy about what happened.
Obviously it’s not fair to call this a “review” as much as an impression of the film minus the part I slept through, or about 30 to 35 minutes worth. Supplemented by vigorous research when I got home. But I liked and respected Hustlers as far as it went. (Or as far as I was able to last.) I also liked the last 20 to 25 minutes, which I was fully awake for.
What do you want me to do, insist that I saw the whole thing in order to save myself from HE comment-thread snark? I liked it and Scafaria is a good director-writer, but the Toronto critics overdid it.
Question: When JLo was going out with Ben Affleck in the early aughts, Kevin Smith coined the term “Bennifer”. But a term that I heard a lot was “BLo” (pronounced “Bee-Low”). Did anyone ever hear that?