“Well, you grow up your whole lives together, you make excuses for people.”
Astrid Young Teo
Notable as a very rare Hollywood film with an all-Asian cast, it is great to see a film like Crazy Rich Asians succeed but that does not automatically elevate it beyond a derivative romantic comedy. A few early scenes suggest an insightful wit, like news spreading to family in Singapore through gossiping message chains before the end of a conversation in a New York. Yet, for most of the running time, the Singaporean location serves as set dressing, only occasionally touching upon the family dynamics specific to the Chinese diaspora. The film’s chief issue is wanting to have its cake and eat it — telling the story of a modest outsider rebuffed by a wealthy family, whilst at the same time glamourising the indulgence afforded by that wealth. The rare big budget representation in Crazy Rich Asians is welcome, featuring a who’s who of Western Asian actors, but — like many of its privileged characters — there is a disappointing superficiality to its success.
“This city, this whole country, is a strip club. You’ve got people tossing the money, and people doing the dance.”
Sold to the audience through the neon allure of a New York strip club, Hustlers is the kind of female-led crime drama that Hollywood has been struggling to make successfully. The vibe is more Magic Mike meets The Wolf of Wall Street than Showgirls, and Lorene Scafaria’s direction avoids the male gaze that would have made the opening act tawdry, introducing us to the hustle of the strip club through the familiar setup of a newcomer taken under the wing of a veteran. The easy cash from stockbrokers with money to burn creates a dependency that ruins the industry once the financial crisis hits, leaving the women desperate for ways to supplement their income. Based on actual events, the simplicity of the grift — drug a mark and then drain his credit cards whilst he is in a compliant state — makes the film’s mid-section incredibly repetitive until the gang starts to overreach and the wheels come off. Jennifer Lopez offers a surprisingly layered performance as the maternal mastermind, overshadowing Constance Wu, whilst Lily Reinhardt seems to channel the naive enthusiasm of a young Brittany Murphy in an amusing supporting role. With the story told from Destiny’s point of view, Hustlers largely skirts around issues of consent and victim-blaming. However, the parallels it draws with the predatory nature of Wall Street, and the hustle of capitalism at large, is a potent message and an enjoyable subversion.