Hustlers might not look like the movie that’s made for everyone, especially when it involves characters who are strippers. But don’t let the trailer fool you when the entire feel of the story contains a crime element of Pain and Gain, except it didn’t take its story in a dark turn, and the fun occupation of the stripping of Magic Mike. If that’s not enough to be sold on one of the biggest surprises of 2019, then I don’t know what to say.
What’s the Story: A couple of strippers, Destiny (Constance Wu) and Ramona Vega (Jennifer Lopez), have been giving it their best at their job, that is until a lot of their Wall Street clients haven’t been in attendance at the strip club after the financial crisis of 2008 made it tough to earn cash for their profession. To make this an issue no more, they created this hustle to drug and steal money from them in the club and celebrating in their own glory.
This is Lorene Scafaria’s third time in the director’s chair after helming the Steve Carell/ Keira Knightley dramedy Seeking a Friend for the End of the World and The Meddler, but I will always remember her for writing the screenplay for the insanely underrated Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Funny enough, after hearing the buzz at the Toronto Film Festival surrounding Hustlers, there’s this instant regret of not taking the time to see this in theaters when it first came out.
Just in the first seven minutes with an entrance set to Fiona Apple’s “Criminal” that’s so memorable, a part of me knew this was going to be entertaining. Her direction was stylish when any scenes are shown inside the strip club, and you just absorb yourself into the world that you can’t take your eyes off of. Thank God she learned nothing from watching Showgirls and made it with her vision in mind. With the screenplay she penned, it’s surprisingly funny, and there are great moments of dialogue between characters and certain things that occurred made it hard to believe at first, but those problems were brushed away quickly. Never have I been so intrigued by the types of moves while on a stripper pole. The way she portrays the women in this are realistic when it’s enough to see how they struggle with family life and just want to feel alive and be themselves.
Wu, once again providing a great on-screen performance after Crazy Rich Asians, dominates the screen with a character that you root for in the time of need she wants in a career as a young dancer. But let me talk about Lopez’s performance because it’s honestly the best performance she has ever given. In the past, I have been critical of her work in movies, whether the movies themselves were terrible or the effort she throws into her roles aren’t the best. She has only been in two movies that she was excellent in: Selena and Out of Sight. Now, we can add Hustlers to the mix. Aside from Wu, Lopez is the one that’s the leader of everything where it’s the smartest and been in this business long enough to know how everything gets done with guys at the strip club. This has been one of those performances that been getting some awards talk. If that’s the case, J. Lo should be thrown into the Best Supporting Actress race after finally seeing what everybody has been talking about.
The best moments just come from the two of them on-screen together, as Ramona takes Destiny under her wing and basically become close as they continue working together.
Then you also have Keke Palmer and Riverdale‘s Lili Reinhart who are also strippers that take part in this long-achieving scheme. Julia Stiles plays the journalist who’s getting all the details to write this actual story. Seeing Cardi B and Lizzo’s names in the marketing could be a turnoff for some, even I’m not a fan of Cardi B, but it’s safe to say they aren’t in it a lot and they weren’t bad for the limited screen time they brought to the film.
It’s all based on true events, believe it or not, which was based on Jessica Pressler’s New York magazine article “The Hustlers at Scores: The Ex-Strippers Who Stole From (Mostly) Rich Men and Gave to, Well, Themselves” just a few years ago. This was a story where I did not know of, but my mind didn’t go toward these women deciding the best way to swindle men is by drugging them and using their credit card numbers. Think of this as a Robin Hood-type scenario. That’s one of those situations where it’s hard to believe it happened, but there’s this sense of understanding where they’re coming from in a city full of people that might not be the greatest. You might expect the kinds of consequences that might give to them towards the end, and yet you continue following them when something isn’t going as planned.
The only thing that kept Hustlers from being more than perfect is that it ran about 15 minutes too long. That should be said because even when the story was building up, it was able to keep that fast-paced energy that was unexpected. But I can also see that some people will find the actions of what these characters might’ve done as unreasonable, but you have to take into account that there might be a reason or just knowing it’s a true story. But who knows what was factually right and wrong with how the story was taken into liabilities.
I might love Hustlers more than others, which just means I’m happy to have fun. Scafaria took this fascinating story and made it smart and investing the whole way through. Perfectly handled with its performances from Wu and Lopez without a doubt, this is a crime film that you didn’t expect it to be rooted with complex characters and a tale of sisterhood. STX Entertainment’s filmography doesn’t have a ton of hits under their name, but this is definitely one of them after a few years. After the success of the film, Scafaria should get a lot more offers after this because I can’t wait to see what she does next. Grade: A-