Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart
FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth
…an insightful drama about female camaraderie…
Inspired by the real-life story of strippers who exploited wall street bankers, the female-helmed caper, Hustlers takes a unique look at a world that up until now has predominantly been seen through a male lens. Its director and screenwriter Lorena Scafaria treats the strip club here like any other workplace, with its competitive nature (including dressing room banter) and hierarchy of power (sleazy managers and bitchy co-workers).
Constance Wu plays Destiny – a single mother struggling to survive while looking after her ailing Grandmother. She then meets the magnetic Ramona (a never better Jennifer Lopez) – a seasoned dancer in control of her sexuality and business – and learns how to make the most of their circumstances.
Until the recession hits and ruins everything… with Scafaria paying impressive pop culture attention and detail to 2008, most aptly through an amusing meta-cameo from Usher Raymond, a known regular on the strip club circuit in his heyday. As a means of survival and formidable form of revenge, the entrepreneurial women hatch a plan to quite literally steal their power back by drugging some truly unsympathetic characters (including the omnipresent Frank Whaley) and taking their credit cards for a ride.
From here on, we navigate through a collection of scams and escapades that, though humorous, quickly become tiresome. Scafaria employs a style that occasionally feels reminiscent of Scorsese flicks like Goodfellas and Casino, but is let down by repeating the same edit patterns and format when moving from the bar to the strip club to (eventually) an apartment.
Based on a New York Magazine article, the script noticeably loses its momentum and direction in the second half. As with most true-crime stories, it was only time before issues of morality (and the law) caught up with the eponymous hustlers – though the police, for that matter, are so poorly represented that they might as well be sitting behind their desks eating doughnuts.
But there’s no denying the chemistry between its two leading ladies – from their first interaction where the maternal Ramona keeps Destiny warm under her massive fur coat, their friendship feels believable and genuine across the story’s 7-year drip-fed structure.
Unfortunately, less can be said for their thinly written protégés, Keke Palmer and Lili Reinhart, who round out their expansive team of scam artists. Julia Stiles is another such casualty – shelved with an unimaginative journalist role that is integral only to the film’s framing narrative.
Elevated by Wu and Lopez, Hustlers is fun when it wants to be – succeeding more as an insightful drama about female camaraderie than a thorough meditation on gender politics and empowerment.