I wasn’t sure what exactly to expect from “Hustlers,” but the stacked cast caught my interest. The Lorene Scafaria- (“Seeking A Friend for the End of the World”) directed film stars Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Cardi B and Lizzo. If that cast doesn’t pique your interest than this film probably isn’t for you off of the bat. If you’re a person with any sense, however, you’re probably expecting to at least have a fun romp through a world of nightclubs and strippers with some incredibly talented actresses. What “Hustlers” offers, however, is that and even more. Great writing, performances, soundtrack and little creative moments of unique and interesting film-making elevate this film that could have just been a fun time to something of substance with an important takeaway for the viewers.
Based on true events, “Hustlers” follows the story of a group of strippers as they attempt to survive the 2008 financial crisis by stealing from their rich clientele. Constance Wu stars as Destiny, who essentially is the protagonist of the film. The story is told largely from her perspective as she recounts the story to Elizabeth (Julia Stiles.) Destiny meets Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) and is immediately infatuated with her. Ramona then takes her under her wing and shows her the ropes of dancing and how to make money in their business. When the crisis hits, strip clubs take a large hit in business so Ramona, Destiny and the crew they assemble resort to drugging and stealing from wealthy men. (Something Cardi B allegedly did in real life!) What starts as a scheme grows into a larger operation that becomes less and less stable as the group fractions off and tensions arise.
The script is tight. Destiny and Ramona are layered and complicated characters with a compelling dynamic. The awe that Destiny has for her is translated on screen to perfection, in a way that the viewer has no choice but to be just as infatuated with her, too. The plot of the movie takes fun and clever twists and turns that keeps things interesting but centers on the very real and damaged relationship between its two central characters. This drama serves as the throughline with occasional detours for montages of partying, heisting, spending and comedy. Cardi B and Lizzo both make what are basically cameos in the film but their scenes are a lot of fun and they don’t overstay their welcome. The film was always moving and really felt like it flew by.
Wu and Lopez absolutely shone in this movie. From their dramatic performances to the physicality involved in their dancing to the lighter comedic moments, they nailed it all. Reinhart and Palmer, who played their two partners in crime were fun comedic relief, especially Reinhart who had a running gag of throwing up whenever she got stressed, no pun intended. Their performance kept the movie light but also brought it down to very real grounding moments. This movie does an excellent job of humanizing a group of women that would often be looked down upon and showing that they did what they did because, just like everyone else, they were just trying to survive an extremely scary time in recent history. It’s honestly hard to hold their Robin Hood-esque antics against them and the film does a good job of not alienating or vilifying them.
The film was also, surprisingly, bright and beautiful. There were a few moments of clever and creative filmmaking that really took me by surprise but I loved. In one, Destiny turns off Elizabeth’s recorder and tells her to leave but when she does so the whole movie went silent. Or another scene when a character wears a wire and all of the audio in the scene sounds like its been recorded with the wire. Little moments like this elevated “Hustlers” from just being a fun film to being one that demands to be taken seriously and asks that you pay attention to what it has to say.
I would say it’s worth certainly watching.