“This city, this whole country, is a strip club. You’ve got people tossing the money, and people doing the dance” utters Ramona, as a justification for her shady actions in Lorene Scafaria’s impressive new true crime drama Hustlers.
Based on on a New York Magazine’s 2015 article titled “The Hustlers at Scores” by Jessica Pressler, Hustlers tells the story of how a group of female strippers, fed up with being taken advantage of by sleazy rich men, decided to have their own back in the most unorthodox fashion.
In early 2007 Destiny (Constance Wu), a young woman struggling to make ends meet decides to take up a job at a high end strip club in NY to provide for herself and her elderly grandmother. The job however doesn’t turn out to be exactly what she expected. In between fending off unwanted advances from drunk and drugged out punters, and having to hand a huge cut of her earnings back to the manager and doormen, Destiny is barely managing the survive.
Destiny’s life is forever changed when she meets Ramona (an electrifying Jennifer Lopez), the club’s top money earner who vows to show her how things are done. When the 2008 financial crash wipes out most of Wall Street overnight, the club is hit hard, resulting in the girls having to take drastic actions to rig the system in their favour. Under the watchful eye of an increasingly greedy Ramona, Destiny and a small group of girls from the club hatch up a plan to fleece their rich clientele of their money.
Scafaria offers a compelling mix of humour, spectacle and social commentary to tell a powerful story about a group of desperate women who come together to even out the odds in their favour. And while some might question her fairly sympathetic stance towards them, there is no denying that the writer/director manages to make a convincing argument for the need to see things from their perspective without judgement.
Elevated by a brilliantly eclectic cast which, besides Wu and Lopez, also features Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer and Lili Reinhart, Hustlers also has some great cameos in the shape of the contagiously buoyant Cardi B as the straight-talking Latina Diamond, while the fantastic Lizzo shines in an, albeit blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, appearance.
Lopez gives it her all in one of her best roles to date. Her performance alone is worth every other misgiving anyone might have about the film, of which there are many, most of them related to the need for spectacle whilst broaching such an important subject. Wu appears to be slightly out of her depth is some of the earlier scenes, but quickly recovers when we get to the crux of story. She gives a brilliantly measured, understated and wholly believable performance as a woman caught between the need to do the right thing, and wanting to do anything to please her best friend.
Hustlers is brash, often crude and unabashedly chaotic, but it is its “buddy movie” sensibility which ultimately wins the day. A robustly made, beautifully acted and decidedly engaging story about some unlikely heroines.