Have you ever thought to yourself: wow, this movie is good, but there’s something missing, and it’s Jennifer Lopez taking off her fur coat to dance to Criminal by Fiona Apple? Well, I’m here to tell you that the movie we have all craved has arrived.
Based on the incredible true story, Hustlers depicts the experience of an erotic dancer, Destiny (Constance Wu), and her rather turbulent and emotional relationship with her co-worker and conspirator, Ramona (Jennifer Lopez). When Destiny finds herself figuratively and literally at the bottom of the pole, she turns to Ramona to help her with her stage presence. As the two become closer and the inevitable 2008 market crash happens, they, along with their band of former-strippers, find better ways to earn money in a post-Wall Street world.
Lorene Scafaria proves filmmaking brilliance still exists in her scandalous and star-studded portrayal of women stealing from men who steal from everyone. The comedic, emotional, and dramatic elements of this narrative blend together and standout scenes are plentiful. There is something so beautiful and inspiring about women dancing to “Love in This Club” in piles of cash, happy as ever, in front of the horniest R&B artist of all time.
In one unrelenting introductory shot, Scafaria sets up a world many of us have never seen before, and lets us temporarily live in it. The camera follows Destiny from the club change room and follows her as she parades in succession with the other dancers. The camera pans every so often, revealing the keen observers in their leather seats anxious to relieve their one-dollar bills. The shot finishes with a passively racist beckon towards our main character. In this one shot, Scafaria shows us everything we need to know about Wu’s character before she meets Ramona: she’s a nervous new girl with something to prove. It’s this meticulous camera-work, paired with incredible sound design and performances, that is integral to telling a story with such a complex scandal.
Not only is it completely engaging, it is also ridiculously moving. Scafaria ensures we feel the emotional depth, as if we have as much at stake as Destiny and Ramona — and as the tone starts to shift, the viewer is as much in an emotionally declining situation as Destiny. What could’ve easily been a sole recounting of the club’s drastic changes after 2008 is actually a tour of the club we have seen in an energetic and euphoric light, but now with a radically different energy; as a viewer, my heart sinks: we’ve seen how this place has helped Destiny grow and prosper. These choices corroborate that Scafaria knows the gravity of her story-telling. Her inventive direction works to keep the tone as threatening and authentic as their LV stilettos.
To tie it all together, Hustlers contains the most diversely talented cast and not one actress is off-beat or miscast. Even the lesser experienced actresses on the screen — Lizzo, Cardi B, and Lili Reinhart — all play to their strengths; while they are varying in the degrees of their roles, they certainly should not be seen as background characters. Reinhart and Palmer never fail in their comedic dialogue, and are a major part of delivering the immeasurable chemistry surrounding our two leads. Lopez and Wu work well together, in that from the moment Lopez’s Ramona beckons to Destiny to “get in my fur, baby” you have no choice but to be hooked on their harmony. We go from watching them strut side-by-side on their way to ruin another man’s irrelevant credit to being lost in a heart-wrenching final scene.
Hustlers works because the people behind it cared deeply about the outcome, and it shows. The technological aspects are profoundly thorough and meticulous; the characters are handled with precision and fostered beautifully by the actresses to match the tone. For a film that has a strong influence from classic consequential filmmakers, Hustlers is very much its own thing — a ballad of powerful women with complex relationships and real feelings making fools of men.