Courtesy of STX Entertainment
Few movies this year have generated as much buzz as Lorene Scafaria’s street smart “Hustlers,” a film inspired and adapted from a 2015 “New York Magazine” story by Jessica Pressler about a group of New York City strippers who drugged and con their wealthy clients into spending thousands of dollars a night without flinching.
The film comes stacked with an ace cast, including Constance Wu (“Crazy Rich Asians”) and Jennifer Lopez - like you’ve never seen her before - steering this adrenaline, cocaine infused ride above the pack of generic stripper dramedies.
More or less, the film will deliver on the expectations, weaving together a series of extremely satisfying narrative beats, while throwing in a dance or two just to remind audiences that, at age 50, Lopez still has the body and the moves. We are not worthy.
This is a film about strippers running a hustle, but on the surface and when you dig deeper, it’s about the bond of sisterhood, family, and - most importantly - a clear social commentary on women in the workplace. It mine as well share the same coda of something like “9 to 5” except much sexier.
The film also joins the ranks of a wealth of Hollywood films (“The Big Short” and “Margin Call” chief among them) about the 2008 financial crisis that sent the economy and country into a spiraling downfall. The difference is Scafaria tells the film from the perspective of working class women and not the Wall Street bozos at the top.
For Destiny (Constance Wu) - going to work means getting to take care of her grandmother and be financially dependent for herself. The film is told from that perspective, with the camera following Destiny at every turn. On the first day of the job, she quickly learns the ropes from a batch of co-workers (including Lizzo, Cardi B, and Keke Palmer) and figuring out who is the most vulnerable when it comes to leaving huge tips.
She understands that stripping in the VIP room is where the money is, but when the 2008 crash hits, those stock brokers with deep pockets become scarce, leaving much of the crew scrambling to afford their lavish penthouse style apartments in upper New York City. Led by Ramona (Lopez), Destiny, Mercedes (Palmer) and Annabelle (Lili Reinhart), the girls take to upscale bars, where they spike drinks of their male targets with just the perfect dose of ketamine and MDMA to keep them lucid enough to hand over their credit cards.
It’s a not-so-elaborate ponzi scheme that becomes much bigger than any of them could have anticipated, causing the squad to post an ad on Craigslist to hire more help no matter how sloppy the execution. All of the performances are especially energetic, with Wu delivering an honest rendition of Destiny that highlights her emotional insecurities. But the real star of the show belongs to Lopez in what is her best performance to date. Playing the unofficial ringleader Ramona with fierce confidence to the point where it sucks all the air out of the room.
Even though “Hustlers” draws a fine line between criminal behavior and exposing the system, it’s hard not to root for these women as they represent a group of single moms and retail workers that are constantly screwed over by their superiors. A classic underdog story that never forgets to tie back to its roots, and Scafaria is smart to cut back and forth between the action, and an interview with the journalist writing the article (played by Julia Stiles) as to give things a fresh and glossy perspective. Sure, it’s not a revolutionary cinematic experience, but “Hustlers” has the swagger, and definitely captured my attention.
Hustlers is now playing everywhere nationwide