STARRING: Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Lizzo, Cardi B, Mercedes Ruehl, Trace Lysette, Wai Ching Ho, Mette Towley, Madeline Brewer, Frank Whaley, Brandon Keener, Steven Boyer, Jon Glaser and Gerald Earl Gillum
A crew of savvy former strip club employees who band together to turn the tables on their Wall Street clients.
Based on New York magazine’s 2015 article from Jessica Pressler titled ‘The Hustlers at Scores’, Hustlers focuses on a group of strippers in New York City that plot to steal money by drugging Wall Street stock traders and CEO’s who visit their club.
Hustlers is directed by Lorene Scafaria, who also wrote the screenplay which is inspired by the true story of Jessica Pressler’s York 2015 magazine article ‘The Hustlers at Scores’. The film primarily focuses on Dorothy, known by her stripper name Destiny, who is taking under the wing of one of the veterans at the strip club named Ramona. Due to the financial crisis however, the women find themselves short on cash, leading to them launching a scheme to drug stock traders and CEO’s of Wall Street, steal their credit cards and charge them to their credit limit.
Hustlers starts off with a interesting one-shot of Dorothy/Destiny making her way around the strip club, from the back getting ready, to entering the stage and beginning to mingle with the clientele. There’s a lot of these kinds of shots from Scafaria which provides the film with an additional flair in its arsenal, as we’re treated to how these ladies worked in the club during 2007 and while we witness the occasional joyless grind that they have to deal with, mostly from Wall Street, and how they use that to their benefit. When the financial crisis hits, we see the after effects ripple within the club as the clientele gets smaller in numbers but meaner in requests that leads to these women deciding to do what they do in order to maintain the steady flow of cash that they had before. The pacing of the film for the most part is really good and the editing is also pretty solid, with some pretty effective cinematography when it comes to the strip club sequences. Another interesting aspect I enjoyed in the film was its handling of audio in particular moments, such as the film having the sub-plot of an interview in telling the story that has a moment where its stopped but continues on without hearing what’s being said. I thought the use of that was pretty effective. The ensemble as well really work well here, particularly the first act of the dozen women that work in the strip club (with Cardi B and Lizzo providing some comedic moments), an ongoing gag with one of the women that takes part in the drug-money scheme that stress vomits and most important of all, you can feel the bond between them collectively. Constance Wu gives a really good performance as Dorothy, a woman that is struggling to fit in until she’s mesmerised by the spirit of Ramona Vega the moment she meets her. She has great range in handling the dramatic and comedic moments for her character. Jennifer Lopez gives arguably her career-best performance as Ramona Vega, a character that captures your attention immediately when introduced to the sound of Fiona Apple’s ‘Criminal’. The scene from Dorothy’s perspective makes Ramona looks larger than life and for the majority of the film that’s exactly how Lopez plays her as, a woman that feels like she’s in control despite how she can be treated in the club, that has a nurturing behaviour that shows you how easily others can be swindled by her, to the point that through the film you wonder whether she genuinely cares or has ulterior motives in mind.
One minor nitpick I would have with the film would be the celebrity cameo it has here, others will find it fun as it pinpoints just how ‘fun’ the girls felt about the club back then before everything went to hell, but I didn’t care for it. Outside of that nitpick, the film does have a few repetitions in showcasing the schemes as they follow the same steps, in the exact same bar/club and I felt like they done that too much, as well as the various montages over the course of the film. As much fun as the film is, when it comes to the dramatic moments, some of it is either left undercooked (there’s one particular scene in which is given two minutes to showcase but personally they could’ve added a few more for the audience to soak it in for emotional effect) and some feels underdeveloped such as life after the club for Dorothy during the recession period/reuniting with Ramona.
Hustlers may have a conventional storytelling structure, which obviously takes homage from Scorsese, but the film is bursting with exuberance and the direction from Scafaria is so confident, you can’t help but be drawn into how it all unfolds. Constance Wu proves once again that she’s a great leading presence on screen and Jennifer Lopez reminds us when given the right material, she can absolutely knock it out of the park. While I still feel a few key dramatic moments were undersold or rushed, I had a great time with the film.