Hustlers

Struggling to make ends meet, inexperienced New York stripper Destiny (Constance Wu) strikes up a friendship and profitable partnership with star dancer Ramona (Jennifer Lopez). When the recession hits, however, the pair concoct a decidedly more dangerous way to earn their money back at the expense of their clients.

By Beth Webb | Posted 5 days ago

Whether you’re a fan of her films or not, it’s undeniable that no-one commands a room quite like Jennifer Lopez. That self-made magnetism that has been finessed over years of performing still has the ability to seemingly slow down time, and writer-director Lorene Scafaria appreciates this more than anyone, rewarding such enigmatic energy with the role of a lifetime.

Make no mistake that Crazy Rich Asians heroine Constance Wu gets top billing for Hustlers — a con movie with all the slickness of a Steven Soderbergh thriller — and rightfully so as its pure-hearted protagonist. Yet from the moment Ramona straddles her pole under a waterfall of paper bills, it’s Lopez whose legacy is cemented in this film.

“Doesn’t money make you horny?” she coos afterwards to a stunned Destiny, cradling her earnings like a newborn. For the women working at Moves strip club, money is a shortcut to freedom at the expense of a society designed to hold them down. In the New York article that inspired Hustlers, journalist Jessica Pressler frames the women in a Robin Hood context, drugging and robbing Wall Street one creep at a time to afford a better life for themselves and their families at a time of financial disarray. 

Scafaria chooses to celebrate what makes women different over dwelling on what holds them back.

This modern band of merry men each come with their own calling card in the film, be it Cardi B’s signature cackle or Lizzo’s white pillowy pimp hat. Even Riverdale’s Lili Reinhart — who takes the hit as the quiet one so the bigger characters can thrive — turns in one of the best vomit scenes of the year, while Wu pairs her signature sweetness with a sharp entrepreneurial streak.

Their collective moxie is thrilling, and stoked by Ramona’s prowess allows them to run circles around their clientele, a rare, somewhat rewarding sight to behold until the moral scale is upended and the group’s dynamic rapidly unravels. Hustlers is also pleasingly aesthetically assured, switching from travelling, Birdman-like takes to crisp, fast cuts, all captured with a nocturnal neon tinge by cinematographer Todd Banhazl (who worked magic on Janelle Monáe’s visual album Dirty Computer).

Where Scafaria finds her strongest footing in a genre defined by the cutthroat dialogue of Soderbergh or even Scorsese, is in the welcome camaraderie conjured up between the film’s big narrative punches. There’s a joyful rhythm to the girls squabbling over chicken wings, or giggling through a drug-cooking montage that would make Walter White blush.

In giving her heist movie a heart without sacrificing the high-tension tropes of the genre, Scafaria chooses to celebrate what makes women different over dwelling on what holds them back. It’s the women in this film that summon its sparky, scrappy edge, who implore you to stick with them through the murkiest of times. And you’ll find yourself doing just that, time and time again.

A giddily entertaining homage to female power that illuminates bold ambition in its stars and director alike, Hustlers is the kind of era-defining film that Hollywood didn’t know it needed.