|'Hustlers': The Tacky Laps of Luxury|
|By Michael S. Goldberger, iBerkshires Film Critic|
02:56PM / Thursday, September 19, 2019
Am I that naïve? I sat there aghast as some took in stride the vengeance being meted out by former strip club employees upon their predominantly Wall Street clients in director Lorene Scafaria's "Hustlers," a scathing dramatization of Jessica Pressler's New York Magazine expose.
Said financiers are assembly line-style drugged and then fleeced of their reputedly ill-gotten gains following the implied and sometimes more than implied promise of sexual favors. Point of disclosure: While not a regular habitué of such dens of iniquity back in the day, my fires of spring were not unsullied. So why the shock? Function of age? Advancing Fuddy-Duddyism?
For starters, I never really liked the whole setup — the nuts and bolts of the mating process that has made leeway for such improvisational adjuncts to the main purpose — the possibility of advantage and/or profit thanks to the psycho-chemical phenomenon that commands the libido. What did I ever do to those hormones to be treated so offhandedly?
But the fact is, the drugs Jennifer Lopez's Ramona and her pulchritudinous gang of sirens employ to render helpless their lustful dupes merely kick start the potentially explosive elements that were planted in each one of those Johns the moment their male set of chromosomes aligned.
Doomed! That is, unless possessing the sort of fortitude and restraint that has eluded, since time immemorial, some of the most heroic examples of my gender. Sure, research physician Lipschitz invented a cure for Dr. San Fernando's Rare Dancing Disease, but all the same couldn't muster the self-discipline to keep from pollinating and then marrying by shotgun directive a very unsavory but equally beautiful gal named Clytemnestra.
Thus, watching more or less horrorstruck, I debated whether or not the conveyor belt of hustled Wall Street gonifs, all of whom had essentially demeaned their retaliators at one time or another, were due this comeuppance. I was under the impression that vengeance was not ours, or has that been changed?
Ramona, superbly exacted with rough-toned polish by Lopez, in trying to calm the objections of Constance Wu's Destiny, her prize prodigy, takes the rationalization of her very profitable enterprise a step further. It's not personal. These guys bilked billions of dollars from millions of innocent, unwitting victims — their houses, retirement funds and kids' college tuition lost, their dreams dashed. In short, the ladies were doing what the SEC didn't.
But not to worry. Following 110 minutes of the devil-may-care free-for-all, chock full of the bounteous and shiny spoils of their plunder, J.Lo's strong-willed ringleader sums it all up in an epilogue that, while not necessarily justifying the means, certainly spells out the ugly truth.
It is a pessimistic capsulization of the entire human experience in a couple of lines and, while hardly something Descartes or one of his pals might sign off on, its blue collar ethos strikes a chord in the psyche. Like a geometric equation in reverse, all that preceded it in the recounting is suddenly appreciated as the pragmatic proof: the glitz and joy of getting rich on the perpetrated misfortune of others merely the symptoms of the overall, dog-eat-dog chaos.
Hence, we are reminded yet again how little we've evolved since first we rose from the primordial mud. But methinks there's more to the deplorable modus operandi of the moneyed bigwigs who make like smalltime Caligulas at the uptown strip joints. Granted, only the methodology has changed since Samson got a cut and a blow dry. But this frat boy behavior is more deep-rooted than simple revenge against Delilah. There is a distinct, tawdry misogyny at play. Call it the aberrant piece of the war between the sexes, vive la difference mocked and turned on its head.
Extend that misappropriating power to countries predominantly run by men and it occurs that if there is a treaty for our loving conflict analogous to the Geneva Convention, it is egregiously abrogated when any government runs roughshod on a woman's reproductive rights. It's not quite like being burned at the stake, but think about it.
As for those who couldn't care less about all the intergender strife so studiously noted and catalogued, "Hustlers" also makes plenty time for deliriously depicted shopping orgies courtesy of the unknowingly generous credit cards the film's enchantresses gleefully max out. And perhaps just as edifying and curious is the girlie-girlie sisterhood epitomized by Ramona and Destiny, a camaraderie that acts as the legitimizing glue of the entire, money-grabbing gambit.
Bemoaning, for various socioeconomic reasons, their lack of education, the broken homes from which they sprang and the complex challenges of generally unintended motherhood, the pretty women in "Hustlers" share a mantra of misfortune. It is them against the world. Immersed in these truths made evident, wondering what magical, benevolent epiphany might relegate to history's trash bin the panoply of bad behavior just witnessed, we lament, "Say it ain't so, J.Lo."
"Hustlers," rated R, is an STX Entertainment release directed by Lorene Scafaria and stars Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu and Julia Stiles. Running time: 110 minutes