‘Hustlers’ features star-studded cast

Written By Nardos Haile, For The Globe

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The premise of “Hustlers” is simple: Four New York City strippers, led by mentor Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Keke Palmer and Lili Reinhart, scheme and manipulate Wall Street men for money. Think of it like a modern-day Robin Hood but with more edge, complexities and is very female-driven. While they are not redistributing their wealth like Robin Hood, they are reclaiming what they lost after the 2008 recession hit the nightclub and dancing industry hard.

Wu’s Destiny narrates the film throughout its steady progression. Destiny is a young woman struggling to find work that earns her enough money to look after herself and her grandma. Her career takes a 180-degree turn when she meets Lopez’s Ramona.

Ramona is electric, charismatic and a veteran dancer that delivers the best clients and the most money. A certain buzz-worthy pole dancing scene Ramona performs mesmerizes Destiny. Ramona takes it upon herself to mentor Destiny and teach her tricks that will skyrocket both of them to the heights of their careers.

The film’s selling point is the all-female cast but it doesn’t just have that, as the writer-director is a woman herself. A film about New York City strippers could have possibility taken a wrong turn if it was written and directed from a male point of view, especially since men and society objectify and exploit women in this certain career.

In contrast, the writer-director, Lorene Scarfaria, chooses to go against the patriarchal male gaze. The camera work and writing make sure to define these women as deeply caring, determined for success and a tight family unit.

Scarfaria’s camera work depicts pole dancing as a very difficult form of art. Classical music even plays softly in a scene where Ramona teaches Destiny her moves. It’s perfected through years of practice, dedication and bruises. Scarfaria shows no average person could walk into a nightclub and instantly become a dancer, through the hardworking female-protagonists striving to be better every day.

Eventually, when the two protagonists are faced with their biggest hurdle, “Hustlers” doesn’t shy away from showing these women at their absolute worst. The film never fails to depict these hardworking women as flawed. Flawed can mean showing manipulative, volatile and self-serving behavior. The writing doesn’t pass judgement on the characters, so neither does the audience.

Nevertheless, “Hustlers” is never boring, and it could never be with its cast and writing choices. It has an even balanced dichotomy between the humor and the drama. Reinhart and Palmer’s younger characters, Annabelle and Mercedes, set a light and humorous tone in some of the more dramatic moments in the film.

Ultimately, the familial unit comprised of Ramona, Destiny, Mercedes and Annabelle is the core bond that holds each character and story together. These women are strong and this friendship is what endures its hardships and trials, but shreds of hope remain. “Hustlers” at its heart is a film about the female experience in its complicated, funny and overwhelming glory.

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