Dorothy (Constance Wu) doesn’t have the luxury of time. Her grandmother is ill and has debts, leaving Dorothy to take up dancing jobs and menial service posts to eke out a living. But it’s 2007 and with it comes the rose-tinged nostalgia of a uniquely American past that was somehow everything and nothing. It’s baffling, yet profoundly relatable, to look at 2007 as an end of an era of sorts. For me? I was living on my own and forced to become a fully functional human being. Something similar could be said for Dorothy, especially when she meets Ramona (Jennifer Lopez). It’s at that moment that she finds some measure of self, some agency. In a world of impulse and insincerity you end up clinging onto those who seem to have it all figured out. Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers presents itself as a catalog of decline, where women are let down by the men that orbit around them. Where a system of dependence proves inadequate and how, when backed against a corner, they prove to be more resourceful than the men who stood in defeat, palms stretched out as they begged for a bailout.
And so it’s 2008 and the Wall Street brokers who frequented Dorothy’s nightclub have vanished. She leaves that world and ends up having a kid. Whatever brief glimpses of the luxury she experienced with Ramona are the sort of thing she’ll need to conjure in her memory for solace. Left with nothing, she returns to the club, hoping for the past to repeat itself. But like most things from your past, you end up feeling a little betrayed when it doesn’t live up to what you remembered. That’s until Ramona returns, where she proposes a whole new way of making ends meet.
Hustlers, like most films about the use of one’s body as a means of capital, tends to lean in heavily on certain superficial ideas on class and wealth. Unlike its kindred spirit, Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike, I’m not entirely convinced of its merits in saying anything especially profound or interesting on the subject of how men and women interact with one another. The film makes some statements on the type of clientele that orbit Dorothy’s club, with characterizations that could best be described as “broad”. There’s just not a lot of depth to its insights. What I do admire about the film is its ensemble, particularly Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu, who along with the revolving door of women who ornate the film, inspire a lot of humor and good-will throughout the proceedings. When afforded the opportunity, Scafaria’s formalism is exceedingly impressive – the numerous tracking shots, particularly during the opening club scene, are notable in their sophistication and smoothness. But more often than not she deploys montage, needle-drop music cues that grow tiresome quickly. Compounded with an effete framing device involving a journalist (Julia Stiles), Hustlers frequently teeters on the brink of collapse. The likability of the ensemble does much of the heavy lifting here, but it can’t be helped that after leaving my screening, I ended up thinking more about the films that inspired Hustlers rather than the film itself.