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Hustlers (2019) <><><>

Hustlers is inspired by this New York Magazine article: I had not read the article before going into the movie, as I generally don’t read the source material before a film. The quotes in the article are reproduced verbatim in the film, so take that into account before you decide on the order you are going to consume them. Early in the movie, we get a plethora of cameos. Lizzo appears with her flute; she is a classically trained flautist. Cardi B returns to the pole and shows that she still has skills. They, along with others, fill in as the happy family of strippers during the booming early 2000’s era Wall Street. This is also when the mother-daughter relationship between Ramona, Jennifer Lopez, and Destiny, Constance Wu, starts. Ramona takes Destiny under the wing formed by her enormous fur coat and shows her the tricks of the trade. Constance Wu is phenomenal as usual. From her start on Fresh Off the Boat to Crazy Rich Asians she is becoming a force in Hollywood. Her greatest abilities are to snap between emotions convincingly and to trick you into underestimating her. Both skills are put to full effect in Hustlers in her portrayal of Destiny. While she starts as a baby bird without a nest, relying on Ramona for sustenance she quickly outgrows the nest and becomes a powerful, confident, forward-thinking woman. Jennifer Lopez looks incredible; her skin radiates on the screen. It is hard to believe that she is 50 years old. Ramona is a cunning character that you applaud sometimes and are appalled by at other times. She is a mix of Jekyll and Hyde with a veneer of Robin Hood over top. She robs from the rich and keeps it herself. She isn’t as careful as Destiny and ultimately leads to her downfall. It is quite the ride to get there though. There has been a movement in Hollywood for bigger stars to bare less skin on screen. This movie revolves around a strip club. None of the big-name stars are ever bare-chested, but a few background extras are topless. It felt slightly gratuitous to have the extras more naked than the stars. If the movie works with Cardi B and Lizzo being clothed, why have any nudity? I never forgot this was in a strip club. The movie made sure to remind you of that constantly. There were several montages showing the same pattern of picking up a guy, taking him to the club, and then running his credit card. I got it the first time and didn’t need to waste ten minutes watching it over and over again. The pacing of the film was off. A lot of time is spent on the early years of Destiny and Ramona’s friendship before they start their crime syndicate. Those early years did not do a lot of background exposition. By the end of the movie, I was still a bit lost on Ramona’s back story. Fortunately, in a single scene at the end of the movie, Destiny’s past is finally revealed by the author of the article. She tells Destiny what Ramona told her about Destiny’s past. I think putting her backstory early in the movie would have garnered more sympathy. Ramona’s backstory is entirely left out of the movie. Withholding information on the characters' backstories was deliberate. There aren’t many movies with a predominantly female cast that don’t revolve around romantic relationships so there isn’t much to compare this to. Perhaps I am biased against this movie because I am used to women being sympathetic characters. You could view Ramona and Destiny as heartless greedy criminals, or you could view them as chain breakers escaping a captive system by any means necessary. There is a lot of grey area to land in between. I enjoyed the story that the movie was telling more than the movie itself. I don’t think the article gives you enough perspective on pre-recession Destiny and Ramona. A few scenes in the movie show you the gritty underbelly of the strip club serfdom that existed before Wall Street went bust. The movie, when put together with the article, gives you a lot to think about. While I give the movie three diamonds, I believe the story is worth four. Women are criminals too and can run large criminal operations just as well. While this isn’t Goodfellas, it is still a great crime centric story.

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