Lorene Scafaria (Magazine Article: Jessica Pressler)
Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles, Mette Towley, Wai Ching Ho, Emma Batiz, Vanessa Aspillaga, Jay Oakerson, Trace Lysette, Marcy Richardson, Keke Palmer, Mercedes Ruehl, Lili Reinhart, G-Eazy, Cardi B, Lizzo
R for pervasive sexual material, drug content, language and nudity.
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When men take advantage of the people around them, it’s considered good business. When women take advantage of the people around them, it’s considered untoward scheming. Hustlers takes a group of strippers and gives them an opportunity to advance themselves by taking advantage of the men who would take advantage of them.
Calling Hustlers a crime film is both apt and inappropriate. The central story of the film revolves around Destiny (Constance Wu). Destiny doesn’t have a lot of options, so she goes to work as a stripper in order to support her ailing mother. As she tries to get the hang of the power structures and opportunities surrounding her new career, she befriends an experienced fellow dancer named Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) who guides her through the rigors of the stripping life and who later pulls her into the criminal enterprise at the heart of the film.
Based on a true story, Wu, Lopez, and a raft of talented actors and singers, set up rich men so that they can be drugged and fleeced while an investigation sits in the wings. The film’s framing device, an interview between Destiny and a female reporter (Julia Stiles), also provides an opportunity for director Lorene Scafaria to try out a clever manipulation of sound in and around the interview.
Hustlers is Scafaria’s third cinematic outing as a director after 2012’s Seeking a Friend for the End of the World and 2015’s The Meddler. Both of those films had mediocre receptions, but this time out, she’s done a much better job showcasing her talents. Her film is a fascinating one that speaks not just to the criminal misdeeds of its characters, but also to the struggles of working class women and the measures to which they have to go in order to survive and thrive in a male-dominated world.
Apart from being the central character of the film, Wu is a star. Her performance is compelling and while there are moments Lopez tries to steal it from her, Wu keeps the viewer’s attention successfully as one of the more sympathetic figures in the film. Stiles is strong in a weakly-written role and Lopez showcases a talent she hasn’t displayed on the big screen since her sensational debut in Selena in 1997.
Riverdale‘s Lili Reinhardt is superb as a volatile stripper who can’t help but succumb to nerves even under the least dire circumstances. And rounding out the terrific cast of primary characters is Mercedes Ruehl as the den mother of the club who helps shepherd and protect the women under her care.
Hustlers is a simple drama about women doing what they can to survive in a hostile culture. Its focus on an actual string of crimes defines its ultimate genre, but there’s something more contemplative and necessitous about a film like this. Some might consider stripping to be an undignified profession, but for these women and many like them, it’s the only option. Even when their work takes them beyond the so-called skin trade into a more detrimental one of deception, drugs, and destruction, they still largely have our sympathy and understanding.
Probables: Supporting Actress (Jennifer Lopez)
Potentials: Picture, Directing, Actress (Constance Wu), Adapted Screenplay, Editing, Sound Mixing
December 26, 2019