In the hands of a different director, Hustlers (2019) would have been a dumb comedy with lots of stripper sequences to appeal to a demographic that the movie is ultimately condemning. With Lorene Scafaria at the helm, Hustlers ends up being a great true crime story with some outstanding performances, and a lot of heart. This film was unbelievably watchable – so much so that a friend who had come with me and planned to leave early to catch a football game was compelled to stay and finish it. I’d almost written this movie off, but I’m very glad I decided to give it a watch.
Hustlers has heart and tongs of talent used to tell a unique true crime story.
Destiny (Constance Wu) is working at a high class strip club in New York in 2007 which is frequented by wealthy Wall Street guys, but just isn’t quite clicking with the profession. She seeks out the help of Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) – a veteran with a clear understanding of how to work the system – and the two form a strong bond. In 2014, Destiny is being interviewed by Elizabeth (Julia Stiles) about her life as a stripper since 2007, and the path she and Ramona found herself on after the housing crisis changed the clientele at the club.
Jennifer Lopez hasn’t been a draw for me since…well, maybe ever. It’s not that I haven’t liked her, but many of her movies just looked cheesy, and I ended up avoiding most. I did see some of her 90’s films, but Out of Sight (1998) is still a major film on my gap list. So, when I saw the trailer for Hustlers which looked like it could be a film with lots of nudity, I didn’t think Jennifer Lopez would do a film like that. While there is nudity in this film, it is mostly in the background, and not from any of the major stars. J-Lo has one seductive dance – barely clothed – and gives such a great dramatic and comedic performance throughout this movie that it has me reevaluating my decision to skip most of her past films.
Ramona is confident and sympathetic. Her ambition is inspiring, and it is easy to see how Destiny becomes enthralled by her. The movie does a great job of painting the picture of their relationship in a way that is concerning, but also understandable. Constance Wu had her big screen breakout last year with Crazy Rich Asians, but I think her performance in this film really allows her to flex her acting muscles in a bigger way. She is asked to do so much in this movie, and there isn’t a moment she isn’t able to pull it off. Whether she is crying, cracking a joke, or just living life, Wu shows that she is a star to be reckoned with.
The characters and the story of this film are both so compelling that it is hard to pinpoint exactly what made me love this movie so much. It could be the other two characters in the eventual plan to break away from the club – Keke Palmer and Lili Reinhart – who are both excellent here as well (with Reinhart having a funny character trait that works every time), or the true crime aspect of this story. The girls figure out how to “fish”, and start targeting high value customers to bring back in the club so they can dump large sums of money while each of the girls receive a cut. This escalates…but I’ll keep the details light.
I’d say don’t skip on Hustlers. This film has a bit of everything, but it’s also just extremely entertaining. While there is some nudity in this film, when compared to movies like Showgirls (1995) or Striptease (1996), it is much more tame. Hustlers earns the Must See rating.