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« Doc Corner: Musical Chairs with Linda, Miles, Aretha and... Bros | Main | French finalists on fire... »
Wednesday
Sep182019

Soundtracking: Hustlers

by Chris Feil

“This is a story about control...”

Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers begins by brilliantly underlining its thesis through the musical vessel of Janet Jackson. The film is a story about control, of reclaiming it in a workforce that tries to take it from you, and ultimately of losing it. But the film is also about female power and shoving back against an oppressive system, all of this embodied in the pop perfection prowess of Jackson herself. Hustlers may be the most slamming pop soundtrack of the year, but it’s also deployed with similar subtextual wisdom. The hits keep coming, but they also reinforce Scarfaria’s examination of feminine defiance with a razor specific period detail.

It’s meaningful that Janet Jackson bookends the film, from this long take opening to sending the audience out dancing with “Miss You Much”. Janet feels like an icon for this film, especially within the context of her treatment after the notorious Super Bowl performance. She shouldered the brunt of the fallout while her male counterpart was easily forgiven, publicly shamed for a sexualized persona that we once celebrated her for. The film demands that we celebrate Janet with these two unimpeachable classics in a way that can’t be accidental, deepening the grander cultural context Scafaria is chasing as she also plays firmly into a pop sensibility.

But the most discussed musical moment of the film thus far is easily the introduction of Jennifer Lopez’s Ramona setting the screen ablaze with Fiona Apple’s “Criminal”. The song is an unexpected throwback and also a wink, foreshadowing Ramona’s ringleading role in the coming scheme. Apple sings about indiscretions that the world around her makes her feel like a criminal, and Ramona is ultimately less bothered by her actual crimes. What Ramona channels from the song is its power (and perhaps nods a bit to the original music video’s sexual suggestion) instead of its shame.

Dig a little deeper and again the song choice suggests a greater consciousness of the world around you: earlier this year, Apple stated that she’s donating all royalties from the song to fund aid and legal assistance to refugee detainees. It can’t have been an inexpensive song cue, but this iconic moment also supported a great cause.

Yet the film doesn’t get bogged down into the serious, its joy in the face of adversity feeling almost radical. Scafaria creates this through an unexpectedly specific sense of nostalgia, returning us to the hits that made us feel alive in the late aughts - does anything sound more 2008 (not 2000-and-late) as Sean Kingston? You could read more into this era of Britney Spears being utilized in the film, but Lopez shouting “this is my motherfucking shit” to “Gimme More” is exactly the sentiment the film is chasing in finding the happiness we had in those years that the world financially burned down.

The most euphoric of this comes along with the film’s surprise cameo, one that allows the film to tap into female lust and the joy of feminine community: Usher’s “Love in This Club”. Of course, it comes as the bottom is about to fall out. But as Scafaria’s hustlers all dance together over the song, the sentiment she shares is one of triumphant communion, of overcoming obstacles and doing it together.

All Soundtracking installments can be found here!

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Reader Comments (9)

I mean this story is also about crime which is not something that needs to be profiled the way you did.

September 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterChinoiserie

This is so great. I found the scene at the end, with Janet closing us out, to be especially effective and emotional. If control captures the film's ideas about what the women were doing and pursuing, then "Miss You Much" and the footage that goes with it captures its thesis about female relationships and families.

I cannot wait for what Scafaria does next.

September 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

YES, this soundtrack was soooo good!!! The Fiona Apple 'Criminal' dance, instantly iconic.

September 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJWB

Does anyone remember Demi Moore in STRIPTEASE? They had her dancing to sad Annie Lennox songs. smh.

Lopez's introduction was exhilarating!

September 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDAVID

Courtney Love's introduction in THE PEOPLE VS LARRY FLINT had her dancing to "Hang on Sloopy"... much better than Demi Moore, but still not as awesome as Jennifer Lopez

September 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMallinckrodt

Just saying, but isn't a stripper with dollar bills being thrown at her when she almost naked and on the floor always kind of demeaning? And then to cope with the recession, they decide to drug and steal from unsuspecting johns? I am not into the messaging of this film, and its celebration in 2019 is a little weird to me.

September 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJane

@Jane, have you seen the film? It tackles the control/demeaning element pretty head on.

September 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

The most hilarious thing about Striptease is that Demi plays a stripper who's obsessed with stripping to Annie Lennox songs lol.

September 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterH

It's amazing to me how much pearl-clutching is going on about the "celebration" and "glamourisation" of crime in this movie, when (say) Goodfellas, Pulp Fiction, and Donnie Brasco never got the same level of outrage. Funny that!

September 20, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMame

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