Movies With My Mom: Hustlers

Hustlers may well have been a critical hit and a smash at the box office, but Mel and her mother are a little harder to please ...

Today my mom and I are discussing Hustlers, starring Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Keke Palmer and Lili Reinhart. Inspired by the viral New York Magazine article by Jessica Pressler, Hustlers follows a crew of savvy former strip-club employees who band together to turn the tables on their Wall Street clients.

Sometimes there are movies that are colorful enough and sparkly enough and show enough T&A to sustain themselves. I’m not sure this is one of them. A.O. Scott called Hustlers a “semisweet, half-flat cocktail of exposed flesh, fuzzy feminism and high-spirited criminality” that “overflows with of-the-moment pop-cultural signifiers.” In contrast, movies like Ocean’s Eight or even Charlie’s Angels also have their share of costume set pieces and slow-motion strutting, but sufficient substance (albeit broad) to back it up.

In the end, whatever we thought about Hustlers, my mom and I both agreed the controversy surrounding Joker was more interesting.

Mom: Hello?

Melissa: Hi. OK, we are just discussing the movie Hustlers. Not to be confused with The Hustler or that Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson movie. That’s not the movie we’re talking about.

Mom: It is certainly not.

Melissa: We’re talking about the J.Lo movie.

Mom: The J.Lo.

Melissa: What were your expectations going into this movie? Did you think it was going to be a fun, flashy, comedy?

Mom: No, I thought it was going to be a sad movie, because a stripper’s life is not a happy one. And I just thought the whole premise of it would be different.

Melissa: Are you saying that you remember this when it was actually in the news?

Mom: Yeah, I remember the story.

Melissa: I actually don’t remember it at all. But that’s interesting that you thought it was going to be sad, because now that you say that, they all were like cartoon strippers, right? They were all beautiful. No one seemed to have it that tough. Right? And they made it seem glamorous.

Mom: That’s exactly what they did. They glorified stripping.

Melissa: Did the movie exceed your expectations?

Mom: No.

Melissa: Did it fall under your expectations?

Mom: It certainly did.

Melissa: I actually know the costume designer Mitchell Travers, but I genuinely thought the costumes were the best part of the movie. But I did think that the flash of it all – the famous actresses and the costumes and the setting and the music and the money – would be enough to sustain it. That if it wasn’t a good movie, that at least I was looking at J.Lo in a stripper outfit. For me, I ended up feeling bad for her. Like she as a person was saying, “Look how damn good I look at 50.” She’s always been known for her, how do I say this… backside. And to actually see it made me sad.

Mom: There were so many inconsistencies also, because they either had a lot of money or they were broke. It was never in between. There were just too many things that didn’t meld, didn’t grip together.

Melissa: It also felt extremely shallow to me. There are movies that deal with shallowness, money and glam, like Wolf of Wall Street, but this was shallow in a way that there was literally no substance. Like it was an empty shell.

Mom: Absolutely. I didn’t know who to root for.

Melissa: I actually felt bad for the Wall Street guys, but every single person in this movie was a cardboard cutout.

Mom: What I thought was really funny was when we saw it, the audience was all women and Daddy was the only male. You would think it would be the opposite, that there’d be more men saying, “Oh, oh, all these strippers!”

Melissa: I just don’t know who the demographic is. They sold it as, these women are businesswomen, but it was all … I thought about walking out.

Mom: Wait, is that an option?

Melissa: Not for professional journalists like us.

Mom: I do think Constance Wu did an amazing job.

Melissa: I thought she had absolutely no emotion to offer at all whatsoever. And I couldn’t understand where she was coming from. I couldn’t understand anything about her character.

Mom: Oh, I thought she did a great job as a newbie. And I thought the best thing about the movie was how they do the pole dancing. It’s beyond me.

Melissa: Agreed. I also think I’ve never seen more slow-motion-walking-through-a-doorway shots in my whole life. I understand the director was trying to make it seem like this is what they did every time, but you can’t always walk into a room in slow motion. That really bothered me. There were so many montages!

Mom: Well, you see things more from a technical perspective than I do…

Melissa: They just used that device so many times, and it made no sense. It’s based on a really interesting true story, but it just didn’t feel fleshed out at all. It left me completely empty. I didn’t care about any of them.

Mom: No. When dad and I walked out, we were looking at each other like, “OK…”

Melissa: What did Dad say?

Mom: He said it was an improvement over Showgirls, but not by much.

Melissa: That’s actually a good point. Showgirls has completely gotten a cult following, and that movie is total camp. This movie is not camp. This is trying to go for something, and somehow missed its mark.

Mom: I had such a hard time of it. And I was so disappointed with it.

Melissa: So was I. Everyone’s saying, “Oh my God, J.Lo is going to get nominated for an Oscar,” and it’s like, no she’s not. How could you possibly think that? I didn’t see any acting. And I like her. I think she’s charismatic.

OK, let’s try to find something redeemable about this movie.

Mom: I said the pole dancing. It was pretty good. They mastered that.

Melissa: So, basically, what it comes down to is that Hustlers was a showcase that J.Lo’s still got it and she can dance on a pole. I mean that’s what it comes down to for me.

Mom That’s the best of the alternatives. It just was flat.

Melissa: It was very flat. It was supposed to be about excess, and I think movies about excess and Wall Street are wonderful, but for whatever reason, it didn’t feel like that.

Mom: There was no depth to it, so you can’t find things to really talk about, because there was nothing really to talk about.

Melissa: The best thing about it is that I saw it early, so I only paid $8.

Mom: Well, gee, we paid more.

Melissa: At the theater I saw it, they’re playing Joker there and charging $20 a ticket, because they are showing it in 70 mm.

Mom: I wouldn’t want to see that. And they’re also having a lot of security for Joker. You didn’t need security for this movie.

Melissa: Maybe you’re paying for the security!

Mom: Probably because they have stringent rules – you can’t bring certain things into the theater, you can’t wear a mask.

Melissa: That must’ve been hard for you, I know you love a good mask.

Mom: Funny.

Melissa: I mean, this is how uninteresting Hustlers was, because we’re now talking about Joker. So let’s leave it there.

Mom: And a movie we didn’t even see.

Melissa: A movie we didn’t even see is more interesting than the movie we saw.

Mom: Sounds about right.

Melissa B. Miller Costanzo‘s new feature, the romantic comedy The List, starring Halston Sage and Christian Navarro, is out now on VOD through Universal Pictures. Her first feature as a writer-director, All These Small Moments, starring Molly Ringwald, Brian d’Arcy James and Jemima Kirke, came out theatrically in 2019. Working in the art department on such award winning films as Indignation, The Fighter, and Precious, she developed an eye for detail and a perspective defined by experience. Her first feature as a producer was The Tested, starring Aunjanue Ellis, which was accepted to the prestigious IFP Independent Filmmaker Lab and Emerging Narratives at IFP Film Week and took home the top prize at the American Black Film Festival.