By Jason Seyler
September 13, 2019
When a film centers on a group of characters, their relationship and chemistry are essential to the film’s success. Hustlers accomplishes this well, taking the viewer on a criminal escapade that is fast-paced and energetic. The film includes exotic dancing, theft, and drugs, but rather than condemning these topics, it embraces them. The viewer is brought into a world that could easily have been painted as dark and ugly, but for the most part, it’s a blast to experience.
Constance Wu stars as Destiny, a dancer in a New York City strip club. Destiny doesn’t have the confidence or experience needed to make the money the others dancers do. Her aspirations are simple as she states she wants to take care of her grandmother and maybe go shopping. After being coached up by experienced dancer Ramona (Jennifer Lopez), Destiny begins to make a substantial income from Wall Street clients. This all ends when the 2008 recession hits and business just isn’t what it used to be. That’s when Destiny and Ramona start their own business– targeting Wall Street men, drugging them, ringing up their credit cards, and ensuring they sign the bill before they are even aware of what’s happening. To Destiny and Ramona, the men of Wall Street are crooks and have ruined the lives of countless people. So what the girls are doing can’t be all bad, can it?
That’s the question Hustlers poses, and it uses its moral dilemma at just the right moments without overselling it. The film focuses much more on the relationship of its characters, and their chemistry is contagious. Dialogue between the women invite moviegoers to laugh right along with them. Their rapport feels natural and the sisterhood they have is impossible to ignore. While obviously committing felonies, the characters rarely feel like bad people. There is a heart to Hustlers, and it’s telling the story of a family. This makes the characters considerably easy to root for.
The casting is spot-on with the story being told through the eyes of Constance Wu’s, Destiny. She is easy to sympathize with and her character’s journey brings an emotional arc to the film. Keke Palmer and Lili Reinhart play two other members of the team that add quite a few laughs while also having their own motivations for joining the scheme. However, the real MVP is Jennifer Lopez in what is likely her best acting role in 20 years. It’s a part that seems almost tailor-made for the actress, playing an aging dancer that is savvy, sexy, and confident. Whether she is dancing or explaining why she and her friends should break the law, Lopez commands the screen. She brings different layers to Ramona that become more apparent as the film goes on. The film’s marketing is somewhat misleading with the inclusion of Cardi B and Lizzo. Both artists are featured heavily in the first act, but disappear once the plot kicks into motion. Lizzo specifically has a very funny moment introducing a cameo of a famous singer.
Hustlers is written and directed by Lorene Scafaria (based on an article from New York Magazine), and while you can feel certain influences, Scafaria makes the look and feel of the film her own. The stripping scenes find a balance between realism and glamour. The film never paints the characters in a negative light for being strippers. They love what they do and love the money they make; Scafaria celebrates that fact. Music is loud, lighting is dark, but characters laugh, smile, and embrace each other. This makes one of Hustlers’s more impressive qualities evident– its ability to juggle multiple tones without any feeling too drastic. The film is funny, but the humor never undercuts any dramatic moments. You can even feel a Martin Scorsese-like influence throughout the film with Destiny narrating much of the story with plenty of montages focusing on people working and exchanging money. Much of the film’s soundtrack harkens back to pop hits from earlier this decade, giving these scenes an entertaining vibe. The stripping scenes obviously have similarities to films like Showgirls, but with the exception of one scene involving Destiny in a private room, Hustlers rarely gets so seedy.
Hustlers is a pleasant surprise and it’s an easy recommendation for anyone. Just under two hours, it is paced well with a runtime that moves quickly without leaving us shorthanded. It has one of the strongest female casts in recent memory, and it’s easy to get swept up in the story.
Star Rating: 4 out of 5