MOVIE REVIEW — Hustlers
Goodfellas Meets Ocean’s Eleven, plus Strippers — ★★★★1/2
I hated Hustlers… or at least that was my expected response to this movie, months before it was even released after seeing the first trailer. Then again, every single time I went to the movie theater and saw it before something I genuinely wanted to see. The entire premise of the film turned me off, especially with having Cardi B attached to it (someone who I am not the biggest fan of for a number of reasons). So what changed? Not me, I still went into the theater expecting to hate this wholeheartedly, but that is honestly the opposite of what happened. I f*cking loved Hustlers.
Inspired by the viral New York Magazine article, Hustlers is the story of Destiny (Constance Wu), a struggling stripper who meets another, significantly more successful worker, Ramona (Jennifer Lopez). The two form a sister-like bond, with Ramona taking Destiny under her wing. Following the financial crisis of 2008, a crew of savvy former strip club employees, lead by Destiny and Ramona, band together to turn the tables on their Wall Street clients.
Where to begin with this movie. Within the first five minutes or so I was already personally invested in Destiny as a character as the film shows her struggle to find her footing in the stripclub scene, while also being taken advantage of by her boss(es). Immediately this felt like a way more personable story than expected. That is largely in part to the thoroughly excellent performances from Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez, who both command the screen in career-defining performances. I can officially say that I am all aboard the train for getting Jennifer Lopez (at least) her Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. I don’t know if Lopez will ever feature in an awards worthy film, but if not, this is a prime one to go out on.
Alongside Wu and Lopez, the supporting cast features a lot of interesting people. Julia Stiles (10 Things I Hate About You, It’s a Disaster), Keke Palmer (True Jackson V.P.), Wai Ching Ho (Daredevil), Lili Reinhart (Riverdale), Cardi B, and Lizzo. This ensemble works perfectly in sync, with each woman getting their own moment(s) to shine. Julia Stiles is someone who I would very much like to see make a return to the limelight, with several legitimately great performances under her belt over her career. Reinhart however has one of the best running jokes of the movie, with her constant vomiting being a built in trait of her character. Even Lizzo and Cardi B, two non-actors in very brief roles, manage to sneak in their own memorable lines or moments. From top to bottom, the characters in this movie breathe in so much life to the story that it makes it hard to not identify with any one of the bunch.
To say Martin Scorsese’s influence can be felt throughout the runtime of Hustlers would be an understatement, but that isn’t to say that Lorene Scafaria’s direction lacks originality or vision, rather she manages to add her own innovative flair to notable Scorsese norms. Over the course of the feature we have the impressive long takes (the opening scene of the movie is outstanding), morally questionable protagonists, great popular music usage, and a decent amount of voiceover. Through a combination of those aspects as well as a largely neon lit backdrop, stylish integration of slow motion, and an all female cast, this film feels like a cross between Goodfellas, Ocean’s Eleven, and any Nicolas Winding Refn film, doused in neon from head to stiletto. The cinematography, sound design, and soundtrack are the three most notable technical aspects of the film, each working perfectly in sync with one another to form a symbiotic bond that helps keep this sex-filled caper tied together and feeling technically sound.
The most surprising thing to note coming out of Hustlers for me (besides my genuine love for it), was how goddamn funny it was. There were several scenes that had me dying of laughter in my seat. From the first backstage scene with the girls talking about their relationships, to Ramona and Destiny cooking up the Ketamine/MDMA cocktails and passing out on the floor. However for me the funniest scene in the entirety of the movie was hands down was the scene with Usher playing… Usher. The cinematography, the usage of Love in This Club (seriously, this movie’s soundtrack is amazing), the slow motion, the fact that it was actually Usher playing himself. Everything here felt genuinely inspired and absolutely hysterical to me.
Outside of a very brief lull in the middle of the film, Hustlers breezes through its almost two hour runtime, graciously leaving you wanting an encore as the credits role. Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu lead an incredible ensemble in one of 2019’s biggest sleeper hits. If this film is not talked about when awards season begins in a few months, I will both be shocked and severely disappointed. Lopez and Wu are both potential nominations for acting roles, however I am holding out hope that we might get to see Lorene Scafaria score a Best Director nomination along the way. I really cannot recommend Hustlers enough. Even if you had little interest, or genuinely thought it looked bad (like me), I encourage you to head out to the theaters and check this out for one of the best movies of the entire year.
Thanks for reading this review, and be sure to check out Hustlers, now playing in theaters! For more film content, be sure to hit the follow button on my profile and be sure to check out some of my other stories:
To keep up to date on upcoming pieces and my general thoughts on movies that I don’t always write full reviews/articles on, be sure to follow me over on Twitter & Letterboxd!