Directed by Lorene Scafaria.
Starring Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Cardi B, Lizzo, Madeline Brewer, Mette Towley, and Trace Lysette.
When the dollar bills dry up in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, a group of savvy strip-club employees group together in order to turn-the-tables on their Wall Street clients.
Much in the same way that Jennifer Lopez’s Ramona enters stage left in shower of dollar bills during one of the more memorable character introductions in recent memory, Hustlers has emerged from nowhere to comfortably take centre stage as one of the best films of the year.
Packaged as a star-studded ensemble piece looking to entice punters through the door with the promise of so-hot-right-now popstars Cardi B and Lizzo, who’re both great, but barely in it enough to warrant poster space alongside a revelatory Jennifer Lopez, and the burning supernova that is Constance Wu, Hustlers brushes aside the glitter, moves out from under the neon signs and make-it-rain money, to deliver a sweet, sexy ode to friendship and sisterhood, all set against the backdrop of the crumbling decadence of the American dream. In short, it’s a knockout.
The heart of Lorene Scafaria‘s film can found in Lopez’s aforementioned entrance, which initially plays out as though you’ve turned onto a provocative J-Lo video on MTV from the mid-2000s, before the camera focuses on Wu’s Destiny, muting the baying of rich privilege at the foot of the pole, and instead letting you know that the only connection that matters here is the one of friendship between these two women, all filtered through the female gaze.
That bond is what drives Hustlers, from the moment Lopez beckons Wu to “climb into my fur”, as she envelops her in a giant coat atop a New York roof, any hint of caricature is shed, and a candid, completely believable relationship between these two independent women develops, and their agency drives the story.
The spotlight and glitter-ball’s shine will undoubtedly fall on Jennifer Lopez, who for those that aren’t too snobby to admit, has always been a watchable presence in the likes of Maid in Manhattan or The Wedding Planner, but has had to carry the weight of that stunning Out of Sight performance with her ever since. This should hopefully remove those cuffs and release her from the trunk of that legacy. Here she’s a representation of a powerful women, using everything at her disposal to help herself and those around her, but it’s the fracture lines during moments of vulnerability where she impresses the most. It’s testament to Lopez that you soon forget you’re watching her, as she quickly vanishes into the character of Ramona.
Dancing around her are a changing rooms’ worth of peripheral characters, with Keke Palmer (Scream: The TV Series) and Lili Reinhart (Riverdale) making the biggest impressions, and getting some of the film’s best lines along the way, but in all honesty Hustlers truly belongs to Constance Wu. She’s our narrator and the big-beating heart of the film. Opening on a shot of her looking in a mirror as the song lyrics state “this is a story about control”, that’s exactly what she represents as a character. A woman in charge of her decisions, not all of them the right ones, but they’re hers, and that makes Destiny, and the film as a whole, worth rooting for.
Scafaria’s script, which was based on a magazine article by Jessica Pressler, is effortless in making you fall for these characters, and by positioning Wu’s Destiny as our way in, succeeds in making what appears to be an inaccessible world, familiar and relevant. Our jump-off point is 2007, a year of racial stereotyping, grabby hands and exploitation. How much has really changed?
It’s not just about the social commentary or impressive empowerment though, because Scafaria has also crafted a stylish film to go with it, especially with a few of the sound editing choices during the final third, and a series of banging needle-drop musical cues will have you downloading the playlist so that you can swing on a lamppost on your journey home from the cinema.
A genuine delight from the moment the lights go down and this line-up of women command your attention, Hustlers is the real deal folks: a smart surprise that will hopefully soon represent the norm. Chuck as many dollars as you can towards the box-office.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★★★★ / Movie ★★★★
Matt Rodgers – Follow me on Twitter