In the acclaimed fact-based drama, the bond between women is shown with rare sensitivity and depth even as they engage in criminal acts
The marketing campaign for Hustlers, a film that opened to an unexpectedly impressive $33m at the US box office last weekend, presents the film as a fun, woke, neon-soaked update of Coyote Ugly. But behind the pink-and-blue-hued ads showcasing the stars Jennifer Lopez and Cardi B, lies powerful commentary on the nature of female intimacy, a mass market shell hiding surprisingly incisive feminism.
Based on a 2015 New York Magazine article by Jessica Pressler, the film follows a band of strippers as they drug unsuspecting Wall Street bankers post-recession while running up their credit cards, with Ramona (Lopez) and Destiny (Constance Wu) at the schemes helm. Sandwiched between a poppy soundtrack and J-Los acrobatic poledancing are insights on the romance of friendship, capitalism in America and the potential and pitfalls of female solidarity.
After seeing Ramona dance for the first time a glittery display of agile ass-shaking that ends with her rolling around on the floor in a pile of money bright-eyed and bushy-tailed newbie Destiny tiptoes outside to join her while she smokes a cigarette. Jacketless, Ramona draws Destiny into the warmth of her fur coat. She rests her chin on Destinys head. Destiny looks up at Ramona innocently. Its a scene of startling intimacy and one can already feel the energy between the pair molding into something like love, an early sign of their ride-or-die bond. Were accustomed to seeing films present sisterly loyalty soon ruptured by jealousy but instead, Hustlers shows something far less cliche.
The film, written and directed by Lorene Scafaria (a rare female lens for a film about stripping), perfectly captures both the depth and fragility of girlfriends who feel more like family and theres sincerity within the performances of Wu and Lopez. As the maternal lioness, Lopez exudes warmth while also maintaining her position as the projects in-control mastermind. For her part, Wu embodies the clever protege gunning for independence, who sees in Ramona both strategy and support. We feel every swell of euphoric acceptance and sting of betrayal between the women. In the end, both are blinded and blindsided by their love for each other.