Hustlers

It’s strike three for Lorene Scafaria, and she’s out! The female writer/director disappointed me in 2012 with Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, and three years after that, with The Meddler. And, I won’t even count the horrible screenplay she gave us for Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. And now she’s given us a movie that is on my list for one of the worst of the year. My wife and I are perplexed at the early good reviews it’s getting. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone, who I’ve been reading since the mid-80s, said that Jennifer Lopez should get an Oscar nomination for this performance. That just made me wonder…if perhaps he was drugged by the concoction those strippers were giving to the Wall Street suckers. About the only thing the critics are getting right about this, is bringing up how great Lopez was in Out of Sight, one of the best movies of 1998.

This film was “based on a true story” and also based on a lot of other movies. You’ll see a little Boogie Nights, The Wrestler, The Big Short, The Wolf of Wall Street, and of course, Magic Mike. Now, as one of the few critics that didn’t care for Magic Mike, it’s not the fact that they used stripping as the subject (the Marisa Tomei character in The Wrestler was good). It’s just usually, those movies are stupid (remember Striptease and Showgirls?).

Except this movie is a rather simplistic and cliched-ridden film, that just shows us the same scenes over and over. Multiple times we saw champagne bottles popped in celebration, or credit cards being “approved” and the three strippers strutting quickly into a bar to find a mark…as if they were female ninjas in a Tarantino picture. There were also four barfing scenes, and one discussion about a time someone threw up lobster on a private plane (because every movie needs a barf scene these days).

These women were all one-dimensional, and there was nothing really likable about any of them. I suppose we’re supposed to feel for Destiny (a miscast Constance Wu). After all, she’s taking care of her grandmother. Yet that’s hard to do when she ends up hooking up with the wrong guy and having a baby, or…buying her grandmother pearls, after we already found out she was in debt. It also gets a little confusing as to why the grandmother wasn’t babysitting (since there’s a scene where Destiny doesn’t make it home that night and the babysitter has split). There’s also a time the women brag about the stuff they’ve scored from rich men, and she’s hearing all of this. So…does she know about Destiny’s profession?

And, I think anybody watching this movie will feel like these rich Wall Street guys are creeps, but we also feel like they don’t deserve to be drugged and have their money and credit cards stolen. Even after one dupes Destiny into doing something sexual for $300…only to throw three 20 dollar bills on the ground. Yet as horrible as these men are, drugging and robbing them so they women can buy cars, jewelry, and expensive bags…doesn’t justify it. If they used the money merely to make a living, perhaps we’d be more on their side. 

A few of the entertainment shows made a big deal about telling us Lopez took pole dancing lessons to play Ramona. Oh, so what! How hard is it to swing on a pole? Jamie Bell lost 40 pounds for Brittany Runs a Marathon. That’s an accomplishment, not J-Lo twerking and wearing outfits that she probably wears in her live shows [side note: why weren’t any of these women naked, when they’re dancing at a nudie bar?]

Rapper Cardi B, who was a stripper before her music career took off, added a little spunk in the early scenes.

Rapper Rizzo feels forced. Yes, we all love the song “Truth Hurts,” but having her storm into the backstage area with her flute to play a song on it dedicated to a strippers boobs…is just odd. But if you want to see Rizzo in pasties, this is the movie for you!

[side note two: I’m not body shaming here, just wondering…do strip clubs higher heavier women? I’m asking for a friend.]

The movie is being bookended by an interview Destiny is doing with a journalist (Julia Stiles). That technique doesn’t work here, although it is funny when she wants to know what Ramona said about her. It’s like they’re little girls on the playground. And Ramona has a few catch phrases that end the film nicely. If only that would’ve happened before the two hour mark of this garbage.

Perhaps the only character I could root for was Mama. That’s partly because she first shows up in the backstage area with chocolate cake, and also because she’s played by Mercedes Ruehl (The Fisher King, Married to the Mob). It’s nice to see her on screen again.

The movie had a few moments that worked. The way Ramona took Destiny under her wing (well, under her fur coast), felt organic.

There’s also a scene where Destiny has to do one of the wildest walk of shames in history, while taking her daughter to school still in her outfit and makeup (after a night that ended with them taking their john to the hospital).

And I don’t know why this bugs me in movies so much, but when a setting like this shows all the women having lockers. Maybe that’s because I knew a stripper who told me stuff gets stolen backstage because they don’t have lockers, or because when I was a teenager, in the movie Punchline (Tom Hanks, Sally Field), they showed comedians having locker rooms…and I knew that was bogus. It’s because the director wants a scene where you can have the women building camaraderie, or having spats. 

A few of the side characters could’ve worked, if the script was written better. Mercedes (Keke Palmer), has a boyfriend in prison. Annabelle (Lili Reinhart) is the one that gets nervous any time they’re about to pull a sting on someone.

Another stripper has a jealous boyfriend, which is a topic that could’ve been used a bit more interesting.

The director also relied too much on slow-motion shots that weren’t necessary, and she wasted a cameo by Usher.

At least this movie had a good soundtrack. Aside from the uptempo hip-hop in the strip clubs, we were treated to Fionna Apple (the appropriate “Criminal”), Etta James, Frankie Valli, Bob Seger, and we hear Lorde’s “Royals” while we see Ramona wearing a hoodie with a bedazzled crown on the back. The two weirdest pieces of music were using the Scott Walker novelty song “Next” (with lyrics about naked bodies and VD), and the classic Chopin pieces just didn’t fit in this picture.

I’m sure crowds will love this movie. It’s just baffling how many critics are, too. I could only give it 1 star out of 5 (and I think my wife would give it less).

 

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.