Hustlers is a movie about women.
Not about What it Is To Be A Woman, or the first female-led movie of X genre or franchise, though there is a place for films like that, but just a movie that happens to be about women. Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria, it follows the based-on-a-true-story-story of a bunch of strippers trying to survive the financial crash of 2008, and the less-than-savoury ways they came up with to navigate the new world they lived in. With some light (read: heavy) scamming along the way.
I mean, let’s talk about the thing that brought me to this movie first and foremost: Jennifer Lopez. Now, I’ve always thought that Lopez is an actor with more than a modicum of talent, even if the roles she was stuck with back in the mid-noughties did little to exploit that. But when I saw there was actual Oscar buzz around her role in Hustlers, I knew I had to check it out; both Lopez and the industry as a whole have aged out of the love interest roles she was stuck with for a long time, and I was keen to see what a more grown-up role would look like for her.
And woah. This is already one of my favourite performances of the year: Lopez is utterly commanding as Ramona, the powerhouse dancer who knows the industry and her clients inside out. There’s so much I love about this character, and this performance – the weight given to the power of female connection over competition in her life, the fact that Lopez isn’t required to rid herself of her sex appeal to be taken seriously, her balance of warm knowingness and emotionally-driven naivete. I doubt she’ll see much in the way of actual awards, because the nature of the industry is not so much to take movies about strippers seriously, but she should. If you have no other reason to see this movie, see it for this utterly enthralling, screen-dominating powerhouse that should, all things right with the world, re-launch Lopez’ acting career.
But, you know, there are actually plenty of reasons outside Lopez to put Hustlers on your watchlist. The movie has, unsurprisingly, seen a lot of dog-panting enthusiasm over the fact that it happens to be about strippers – sexy naked ladies, y’all! – but I was totally impressed with how Lorene Scafaria presented their profession. Their sexual power is forefronted, the men they perform for objectified in the process; when we do see them in their off-hours, they’re not carefully posed to smooth out tummy rolls and celullite, subjects, not objects. If you’re coming looking for titillation, you’re probably going to leave dissapointed, but my God, after what feels like one hundred straight years of women taking their clothes off as set dressing, it’s nice to see someone actually look past that veneer into something with more bite. The visuals are handsome and the soundtrack insta-nostalgic for anyone who remembers the music of the late 2000s, but the style is only background noise for the substance.
And this is an ensemble, after all, and the cast is pretty much uniformly perfect; even stunt castings, like Cardi B or Lizzo, deliver the sharp charisma required for their roles. Constance Wu is a dense, witty lead, while supporting cast members like Madeliene Brewster and Keke Palmer bring lavish amounts of personality and colour to their roles. Shoutout to Lili Reinhart, my sweet Riverdale angel who is finally flying free into things that don’t completely suck, and who’s comic relief performance in this was one of my favourite things about it.
Hustlers has already been a surprise smash-hit at the box office, with the vast majority of the audience being women, and that doesn’t surprise me at all. Though big-name cinema has taken it’s fucking time figuring it out, women actually like to watch stories about other women: not stories where they’re set dressing or love interests, but stories that centre them entirely. Hustlers, with it’s compelling central cast, straight-faced treatment of the industry it exists within, and exploration of women not solely as representatives of their gender but as fully-fledged characters within their own right, is a perfect example of how to do this right – and have a little fun in the process.
By Louise MacGregor
(header image via Pajiba)