Led by style and terrific performances, Hustlers turns this true story into one of the biggest surprises of the year. Destiny’s (Constance Wu) life is forever changed when she meets Ramona (Jennifer Lopez), for better and worse. After the two form a strong bond and share in their success, they are separated following the financial crisis of 2008 tanking American business. When they do find each other again a few years later, Destiny and Ramona plot how to get back to the top and regain their independence.
Taking one look at the marketing for Hustlers and it is understandable why many – like myself – would dismiss it. With JLo front and center, the movie sells a stripper revenge movie featuring current pop stars like Cardi B and Lizzo. It almost makes Hustlers feel like a simple cash grab that will capitalize on its R-rated content and linger on a gorgeous cast, with some revenge/heist plot weaved in. However, writer-director Lorene Scafaria (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World) proves that Hustlers is far from that, with a smart and funny story built around the friendship of two women trying to make it in this world. Their time as strippers only accounts for the first act of the film. As a result, Scafaria delivers a movie that will undoubtedly surprise many who come across it.
The backbone of the film are the performances given by Wu and Lopez. Wu is a recent breakout lead thanks to Crazy Rich Asians, and she solidifies herself as someone to watch moving forward. Whether its the innocence she brings to Destiny or carrying Hustlers more emotional moments, Wu delivers and helps make Destiny an empathetic character. She just wants to earn enough money to help her grandma, which is an important and heart-warming relationship in the film. She is the lead character of the movie too, with Hustlers taking a framing-device approach to its storytelling. The movie is based around the New York Times article “The Hustlers At Scores” by Jessica Pressler and bounces back and forth between Destiny’s interview with magazine writer Elizabeth (Julia Stiles) and her recollection of what happened over the last seven years.
Through the eyes of Destiny, Hustlers easily frames Ramona as this angelic and charming figure who is always in command. Its a simple task to make JLo look fantastic, but her performance is what really impresses. She is fierce, powerful, and absolutely stunning. The chemistry she shares with Wu makes the movie in many ways, as Hustlers is at its best when they are on screen together. That is where the friendship is most obvious and effective. Just based on the story, it could’ve been difficult for Hustlers to keep Ramona from becoming a full-on villain by the end of it. She’s the one who devises a plan to steal money from unsuspecting men by drugging them. And even after Ramona and Destiny have a bit of a falling out, Hustlers still manages to bring it home by keeping the focus on the friendship.
While Hustlers does rely on the chemistry of Wu and Lopez, there’s an even greater charm that comes once Destiny and Ramona find a few more friends to help them out. This is where Keke Palmer and Lili Reinhart become a bigger part of the story and each of them turn in good performances. They’re used a bit more for comedic relief and let Wu and Lopez drive the heart of Hustlers, which results in Reinhart being central to the movie’s best running gag. Together, these four lead the heist portion of the movie, which has tinges of the Oceans franchise, while there’s even some quick moments that reminded me of Breaking Bad.
Behind the camera, Scafaria takes a step up as a storyteller. Her script is tight, witty, and smart, with her direction slick and consistent. There are limitations that come with the story at hand. As mentioned, Hustlers is firing on all-cylinders when Wu and Lopez are together, so when they do grow apart, that’s where the story can feel a bit less compelling and slows down. But, Hustlers looks great from start to finish, even beyond the cast. Scafaria’s cinematographer Todd Banhazl and editor Kayla Emter help make some impressive single takes and stylish transitions possible.
Leaving Hustlers, its easy say it was a pleasant surprise of a film, but its also one that could age incredibly well. Maybe that will help what appears to be early Oscar buzz for the movie, which would be grand, but not necessarily something I’m expecting. Regardless, Hustlers is a fun time and worth checking out.
4 ticket stubs out of 5
Hustlers is rated R for pervasive sexual material, drug content, language and nudity
Did you see Hustlers? If so, let us know what you thought in the comments! But remember, we’re all friends here, so keep the conversation civil. If you want more coverage on Hustlers, check out the crew’s review in this episode of Friends and Film!