hustlers

Rating:

Everyone had a bit of a giggle when the first trailer for Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers debuted online. It looked possibly bad enough to be good, or at the very least, disposable and enjoyable. No one thought that a film about a bunch of strippers fooling rich Wall Street men for their money would actually be one of the best films of the year. We were wrong and we owe Scafaria a hearty apology.

The plot of Hustlers will probably never win anyone over, even if it’s based on real events. The plot description makes Hustlers seem like a basic dramedy, but there is nothing basic in Scafaria’s film. Instead, Hustlers is an empowering and fun film that celebrates female friendship and the female body and offers a unique look into the lives of these women.

hustlers

The thing that’s most striking about Hustlers is Scafaria’s bold use of classical music. While there are several bangers on the soundtrack (Britney Spears’ Gimme More is a particularly inspired choice), it’s scenes set to classical music that are the most memorable. A pole dancing tutorial set to a classical piano piece? Don’t mind if I do. The music choices give Hustlers a sense of validity and seriousness, not because classical music is more valid than hip hop or pop, but because it challenges how we view the scenes. It’s a bold move and it could have easily gone wrong, the music could have easily alienated the viewer but with careful editing and a lot of love, Scafaria’s film soars against the grain.

Scafaria plays with sound beyond the use of non-diegetic music. The frame story is Destiny talking to a journalist about her experiences and scenes overlap with Destiny’s voice on a recorder. Scafaria isn’t afraid to go completely silent either when Destiny abruptly stops an interview and there’s no sound to accompany the images.

Most importantly though, Hustlers constantly has a sense of fun. While the more serious second half is considerably weaker, the first half is brimming with life, joy and female empowerment. In Hustlers, stripping isn’t a worst-case scenario, it’s a way of life, a choice. These women are a family and they enjoy being up on stage. Scafaria and her cinematographer Todd Banhazl show remarkably well how empowering it can be to feel all the eyes in the room on your body, especially during Ramona’s solo dance. It’s sexy but never exploitative. Scafaria’s female gaze lingers over the entire film, allowing her subjects to flourish as sexual beings, without ever condemning them.

Jennifer Lopez, rightly a contender for all the supporting actress awards, shows that she’s still got it. She brings glamour and toughness to Ramona, making her a sexy mother hen to the other girls, but with a gentle side. Ramona inviting Destiny into her fur coat is a cinematic moment worth cherishing, perfectly capturing the beauty of female friendships. Ramona and Destiny support each other, hold each other up, even when things start to turn ugly.

hustlers

Constance Wu, so charming in Crazy Rich Asians, once again nails her character. Destiny feels like a fully rounded character, full of bad choices, but also full of life. These women have internal lives, morals and dreams. Wu’s charm is infectious and Destiny’s love for her grandmother is touching and emotional.

If there’s something wrong with Hustlers, it’s its inability to control the massive cast and all the cameos. Ultimately the story is focused on Destiny and Ramona, but they’re joined by Lizzo, Cardi B, Keke Palmer and Lili Reinhart to name a few. Lizzo gets a few lines and Cardi B shows off her gorgeous body but none of these women are allowed the same amount of screen time or personal development. They’re barely supporting characters, more like padding around the edges of the film.

Regardless, Hustlers is a wonderfully enjoyable film. It’s full of girl power, sex and a little bit of rock’n’roll.

Dir: Lorene Scafaria

Scr: Lorene Scafaria

Cast: Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Lili Reinhart, Keke Palmer

Prd: Jessica Elbaum, Will Ferrell, Jennifer Lopez, Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, Adam McKay, Benny Medina

DOP: Todd Banhazl

Music: Jason Markey (music supervisor)

Country: USA

Year: 2019

Runtime: 110 min

Hustlers is out on Digital Download January 6 and DVD, Blu-Ray and Digital January 20th.