in Malaysia for “excessive obscene content”, Hustlers held a press screening in Jakarta with quite an interesting celebration: a spectacle of pole dancers showing their skills on two poles specially installed inside the Plaza Senayan cinema area.
It was the first time for me to watch a live pole-dancing performance, which featured all-female dancers during the short time that I saw them. One of them gracefully climbed the pole and suddenly turned her two feet, which had ridiculously high pole dancing shoes on, upside down without even breaking a sweat. I was immediately in awe.
Truthfully, watching similar performances in the movie was not as entertaining, however Hustlers is more than just about a group of strippers pole dancing in order to survive in New York City. Based on a true story, specifically magazine’s 2015 article by Jessica Pressler titled “The Hustlers at Scores”, it tells how strippers went from making a lot of money at the Moves strip club to struggling to get even a decent tip after the 2008 financial crisis — since most of their clients were Wall Street guys. Some of them, led by veteran stripper Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) and the club’s junior member Destiny (Constance Wu), later decided to run a scam where they drugged the men and maxed out their credit cards.
The story of how it all began is presented as flashbacks recounted by Destiny during an interview session in the comfort of her home with a journalist named Elizabeth (Julia Stiles). How Destiny needs money to support not only herself but also her grandmother, how she struggles as the club’s newbie until she meets Ramona who takes Destiny under her wing, how they become a team and later made a lot of money at the club, and how the economic crisis led Destiny to quit dancing, get pregnant with her boyfriend and have no luck in finding another job.
With nowhere else to go, Destiny returns to the club and is finally reunited with Ramona who is more than happy to help her get back on track. However amid the financial crisis, they are barely making money the usual way, hence they try hustling instead, which turns out to be a success. However, their scheme has to come to an end when they fail to stick to their motto that “nobody gets hurt.”
Aside from the spirit of “girl power”, Hustlers is rich in inclusivity, which is a common thing nowadays. The cast members are also convincing, particularly Lopez and Wu in the lead roles. The soundtrack adds more pleasure to the viewing experience, which was sometimes disrupted by censorship here and there (particularly of the upper body) or a suddenly cut scene.
Though the movie starts quite slowly, it picks up the pace, resulting in a quite enjoyable watch. Unfortunately the cast members’ strong performance is not supported by a deep-enough narrative, hence I struggled to root for the characters or to feel any sympathy for their hardship, which is usually something you expect to experience when watching a true story-based film.
All in all, Hustlers is a good enough watch for those needing some entertainment, however not relatable enough as a memorable cinema work.
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