went to see the film Hustlers the other the night without much in the way of expectations. After all, the film, directed by Lorene Scofaria, stars Jennifer Lopez. whose film career has faltered time and again from less than adequate acting.
The story is based on journalist Jessica Pressler’s New York Magazine expose of a group of former strippers. These former dancers are shown to be financially struggling. Some, like the characters plagued by Lopez and Constance Wu (Crazy Rich Asians) are single mothers.
Like The Big Short of a few years ago, the new film deals with the financial meltdown of 2007-2008. It is this crisis that has, among other factors, placed these women in such distressing circumstances. But also like that film, Hustlers touches on the corruption that contributed to the meltdown.
The main characters formerly worked at a strip club that greedily took back a big chunk of the strippers’ earnings. Most of the patrons of this club were wealthy Wall Street types, and the large majority of these men seemed to have earned their wealth from financially preying on others.
Lopez’s character, Ramona, launches a plan to exploit the exploiters. She and her colleagues devise to take these men out for nights of drinking, and then to get them drunk and drugged up. Once these slimy patrons have lost control of their faculties, the hustling women take money from their charge cards.
So the story moves forward, and the hustlers eventually have to face the consequences of their own actions. Ramona, of course, is herself a predator. She is also greedy. The amounts she steals become successively larger.
Yet she is also nurturing. At the film’s heart is the troubled but truly symbiotic friendship between Ramona and Constance Wu’s character, Destiny. Ramona has a way of taking unfortunate young women such as Destiny under her wing, and protecting.
But she also brings to mind the Dickensian character Fagin, who took wayward boys from the streets of London, and turned them into pickpockets. Ramona exploits her protegees as well as her male customers. It should also be noted that not all the men she steals from are unsympathetic.
Yet Hustlers does not force us to decide whether Ramona is ultimately a surrogate mother or ruthless predator. She is both. It is this film’s willingness to present its characters in their full complexity that makes it compelling fair.
Finally, the actresses in this film give uniformly strong performances. To my pleasant surprise, Jennifer Lopez not merely excels in her role: she is the force that drives the film.