Directed by: Lorene Scafaria
Screenplay by: Lorene Scafaria
Based on “The Hustlers at Scores” by: Jessica Pressler
Starring: Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Lizzo, Mercedes Ruehl, Cardi B
I have to laugh.
“Hustlers,” the latest film from writer-director Lorene Scafaria, earned high praise coming out of its Toronto International Film Festival premiere on September 9th while the online buzz was “meh.” I’m laughing because, as the movie so succinctly points out, we’re all being hustled, some just do it better than others.
Based on the New Yorker article, “The Hustlers at Scores,” Scafaria paints a picture of struggle as a group of strippers concocts a plan to steal money from unsuspecting Joes. Constance Wu plays Dorothy, a wholesome, next-door-neighbor type who is reserved at first when she is forced to get a job as a stripper. Anxious and nervous, she finds a friend in Ramona played by Jennifer Lopez.
Under Ramona’s expert tutelage, Dorothy finds the lifestyle to be very easy; the money, the attitude, the control that come with those situations is addictive. When disaster, in the form of the 2008 financial collapse happens, we realize just how vulnerable everyone is.
Scafaria doesn’t hide behind the effects of the meltdown either. Dorothy, who is already struggling to make herself alluring in the face of stiff competition, also now has a baby to consider. Wu gives a range of emotion during this time as she forced to find other work, forcing Dorothy and Ramona to part ways.
The story flashes forward a few years and we see Dorothy and Ramona catch up unexpectedly, where their friendship resumes as if time was frozen and that’s the point at which the plan is hatched.
The grand heist felt like it could have been patterned from numerous heist films that have come before it, but my mind keeps comping back to Scorsese’s “Goodfellas,” because of the way Scafaria frames the story and develops her characters. It takes a few individuals to scheme the system and it takes several rotten eggs to ruin it.
There’s also an inherent class about the way in which the ladies of the night work their magic; an honesty and an integrity about it; we genuinely believed these women were doing it because they needed to survive and had no other skills to offer the world, something that Scafaria builds out: empathy. We are empathetic to their struggles and the movie is self-aware enough to know that our empathy will go only so far.
Which is why Julia Stile’s Elizabeth character works as well as it does. Dorothy’s interactions with Elizabeth are minimal at first and they are framed in a way to make you think that their conservation is leading you in one direction when the script is flipped.
“Hustlers” isn’t your typical heist story. It has heart and humor. It’s layered with intricacies that will catch you by surprise. Most imperatively, it is empowering and liberating. The story sets out to tell the events of a bad situation going worse, while managing to come out smelling like roses. Ae the end of the day, you won’t mind being hustled out of your $15 for a movie ticket because they earn every dollar in their pocket.
3.75 out of 4