Hustlers, written and directed by Lorene Scafaria (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World) from the magazine article by Jessica Pressler, is a fun new riff on a typically male-dominated genre. Thanks to witty dialogue, excellent editing, and inspired casting, this is a thoroughly entertaining and surprisingly compelling true-crime comedy.
The film follows a group of former strippers who try to make money off of their usually sleazy Wall Street clients by getting them intoxicated and manipulating them into spending thousands of dollars. Even though there is some inherent predictability in the story given that it is based on true events, Scafaria writes the script in a way that is unorthodox, allowing the movie to build suspense in other ways than not knowing where the story is going to end.
Scafaria also paces her film in a unique way. She takes her time in getting the main narrative rolling, allowing the first thirty or so minutes to introduce us to the world and characters. This portion of the movie almost plays like a hang-out movie in which the audience is spending time with these characters as they make their way through the underground world of exotic dancing.
One of the few shortcomings of the film is that the character development is not as well-rounded as it likely should be. Although the two leads, Destiny (Constance Wu) and Ramona (Jennifer Lopez), are compelling and have extremely interesting arcs, the rest of the characters are underdeveloped and underutilized. The movie still has the emotional impact it should because the audience connects with those two characters, but it could have been even more effective if some of the subplots were explored with more depth.
The ensemble in the film is definitely very strong all-around, especially from Lopez, who gives a commanding supporting performance. Although she is no stranger to emotionally complex roles (her work in Selena will always be underrated, no matter how much more love it gets over the years), this is certainly her best work in years. Unlike some of the soulless romantic comedies and thrillers in which she has appeared recently, this role allows her to both have fun and show her true emotional range.
Wu, who is the lead of the movie, gives a very good performance too. After Crazy Rich Asians and now this, she has positioned herself to be a phenomenal leading lady in future roles. Even though Lopez does steal the scene from her a few times, Wu gets plenty of chances to shine, especially in scenes in which she is interviewing with a reporter character played by Julia Stiles.
Unlike most other films centered around strip clubs, this movie does not seek to arouse, and that is likely due to the absence of a male gaze. There is nudity and sexually suggestive dancing throughout, but it is not shot in a way that is excessive. Rather, it is shown in a very matter-of-fact way that seeks to aid the storytelling and portray the characters in the most realistic and honest way possible.
Additionally, the editing of the film is pretty phenomenal. The music cues are brilliantly selected and perfectly timed, making the soundtrack one of the best of the year so far. Ultimately, the movie has a natural rhythm which keeps it moving along even when the narrative becomes a bit stagnant in the middle section, which is the main factor that keeps the film enjoyable throughout. The energy of the movie is certainly infectious.
A great crime comedy with artistic directing and a talented cast, Hustlers may just be the sleeper hit of the fall. As a nice piece of accessible counterprogramming in-between blockbusters, this film earns its spot in the multiplexes and will hopefully keep it for weeks to come.
Hustlers hits theaters on September 13.