Hustlers, written and directed by Lorene Scafaria, is based on the 2015 New York magazine article, “The Hustlers at Scores” by Jessica Pressier. The story details a group of four women used illegal means to get more money out of their wealthy clients.
Hustlers is told through the eyes of Destiny (Constance Wu). The film opens with her first day at the club. It’s not long before she meets Ramona (Jennifer Lopez), a veteran dancer who takes Destiny under her wing and teachers her how to milk the Wall Street clients for every dime they have.
After the recession in 2008, things slowed down at the club and the girls needed to find a new way to make money. Ramona comes up with a brilliant idea that will rake in all the money. Her idea is illegal and could land them in prison or make them rich beyond their wildest dreams.
Everyone knows Jennifer Lopez is biggest name attached to the film. She’s the face of the advertisements and the focus in the trailers. Lopez KILLS her opening dance number and gives her best acting performance since Out of Sight. Her character shifts from matriarch, to criminal mastermind, to seductive siren – Lopez nails each element of Ramona’s personality.
The star of the film is Constance Wu as Destiny. Her portrayal is what gives this movie its emotional center. Destiny’s tragic past and uncertain future is what makes the group’s illegal scheme to get rich understandable. Not defensible, but understandable. None of the motivations work without Wu’s energetic performance. She’s the only character that changes as the story progresses. At some moments, Destiny comes off as strong, only to be a sobbing mess in the next scene. One of Wu’s best scenes involves Destiny retelling a lap dance she gave in the private room. It’s that type of raw emotion that makes Hustlers more than just a guilty pleasure movie.
As serious as the subject matter is, Hustlers leans into the funny. It’s as absurd and hilarious as nightlife in a big city tends to be. There are a dozen or so laugh out loud moments. Most of the humor comes from the supporting cast that includes Keke Palmer and Lili Reinhardt. They are hilarious together. Reinhardt has some of the best jokes, especially a running gag that pops up when you least expect it.
Director/writer Lorene Scafaria does an incredible job capturing the vibe of the early 2000s (the amazing soundtrack helps). Scafaria shows off her skills as a filmmaker during the club scenes. Even in a poorly lit strip club, the scenes are vibrant and colorful. Scafaria skills are at their best during the champagne room scenes. Those scenes are visually stunning. She uses camera angles and slow motion to capture what it’s like during those private sessions. She does this without giving into the male gaze, but by showing the dancers being in control of their sexuality and the men during those scenes.
The story tries to say something about the idea of casually robbing people, Wall Street greed, and the need for family. These topics are touched upon but the film never lingers too long on them. Most of the film is centered on Destiny’s journey and her rollercoaster relationship with Ramona.
Hustlers is wildly entertaining snapshot of what the life of a dancer is like in New York City. The highs, the lows, and all the craziness that happens on the way to making money. Hustlers will remind audiences how much of a star Jennifer Lopez is and spotlight the rising star that is Constance Wu. By the end, audiences may not have the full scope of what it’s like to be a dancer. They will have an appreciation for the hard work these women do and deeper understanding of who they are outside the club.