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Hustlers Movie Review

Hustlers Review

By Matthew Passantino

The wondrous thing about “Hustlers,” the new crime drama from writer-director Lorene Scafaria (“Seeking a Friend for the End of the World“), is its ability to navigate an array of tones and emotions throughout the movie, sometimes within a single scene. At times, it’s easy to take “Hustlers” for what appears to be on the surface: a flashy and entertaining look inside the world of a New York City strip club. To end observations of the film there would be a disservice and an inaccurate description of what’s really going on. The movie flows with an undercurrent of anger and melancholy, fueling the characters’ actions without ever excusing them. Scafaria cares deeply about the women at the heart of the story and it shows in her energetic and sensitive direction.

The movie, which is inspired by true events and based on a 2015 New York Magazine article by Jessica Pressler, introduces us to Destiny (Constance Wu, “Crazy Rich Asians“), who enters a strip club in 2007 looking for a job. She previously worked at a different club but seems like the entire world is still new to her, as she timidly interacts with customers and fumbles through the night. She is awe-struck by veteran dancer, Ramona (Jennifer Lopez), who enters the film like a unicorn strutting the stage. Destiny is put in a trance by Ramona’s presence and her acrobatic work of wonder on stage. As a screen presence, Lopez’s entrance demands the attention of the camera and the viewers.


Ramona and Destiny become friends quickly, but it’s clear that Ramona is protective of all the dancers at the club. There’s no sense of seniority or superiority in Ramona, who treats each dancer like her child. Like anyone, she’s there to make money but doesn’t hesitate to show Destiny how to make as much money as possible. It’s not a competition. Ramona knows everyone is just trying to survive.

Life seems good for Ramona and Destiny, who can support their families and go on shopping sprees with the money they are making at the club. Business comes to a screeching halt when the 2008 recession hits and the Wall Street guys are no longer coming in every night and willing to spend thousands of dollars. The dancers are forced to take minimum wage jobs, but Ramona concocts a plan for them to start making money again. She selects Destiny, Annabelle (Lily Reinhart, Riverdale) and Mercedes (Keke Palmer, Scream) to be a part of her operation, ensuring plenty of money gets back in their hands. The legality of her plan is a lingering issue but, as they are desperate to get by, it doesn’t immediately become a factor.

Despite the shopping montages and decadences the women indulge in, “Hustlers” doesn’t celebrate or revel in their money-making scheme. Conversely, it doesn’t paint them as villains, even though their actions are morally dubious and illegal. Scafaria stays neutral and allows the audience to decide how they feel on the characters, which is the best thing a movie like “Hustlers” can do. Anger and desperation are a lethal combination and the movie allows for at least understanding as to why the women did what they did.

The ensemble works in harmony to bring this story to life, with the movie being seen through the eyes of Wu’s character. The way the screenplay is framed, involving Wu and Julia Stiles (Riviera), is a bit hackneyed and unnecessary because the rest of the story feels so well-drawn. Scafaria keeps momentum alive with her camera and some of the time jumps allow for a little bit of the film’s energy to escape.

Much has been said about Lopez’s performance, which is certainly the best work she has done in a long time. Lopez is such a mega-star, it’s hard to ever see anything but her persona on screen. She doesn’t disappear into this role, but she doesn’t have to. She does something a bit more important as Ramona: she commands. When she is on screen, everyone pays attention to what Ramona is saying. She carries herself with authority and confidence, even if, deep beneath the surface, that might not be true. Ramona, much like the movie, has layers, and Lopez nails every note within her performance.

A lesser film than “Hustlers” would have skated by on vanity, and a more self-indulgent film would have loudly preached its skewering of the one-percent. Scafaria presents a balance between aesthetics and the narrative, which makes “Hustlers” a deeper and more engaging film.

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