ITOL Top 50 Films of the Decade, Entry No. 23: Hustlers

Year: 2019

Runtime: 110 Minutes

Director: Lorene Scafaria

Writer: Lorene Scafaria (based on Jessica Pressler’s magazine article)

Stars: Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles, Cardi B, Lili Reinhart, Keke Palmer

By Valerie Kalfrin

In “Hustlers”, dancer and den mama Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) posits that New York City—the whole country, really—is one big strip club. “You got people tossing the money, and people doing the dance,” she says.

Writer-director Lorene Scafaria (“The Meddler”, “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”) never loses sight of who’s doing what throughout this entertaining crime caper, bringing a decidedly female gaze to the world of strip clubs and sex workers that feels fresh because we’ve seen so little of it.

Hustlers_Lopez closeup

When “Hustlers” first opened in September, several reviews focused on Lopez’s character entrance, an acrobatic pole dance to Fiona Apple’s “Criminal” that’s a standout for how confident and sexy it is. As much as we welcome celebrating a 50-year-old woman as a knockout (more, please!), we love how “Hustlers” plants its narrative stilettos in the way it introduces another character: Dorothy (Constance Wu, “Crazy Rich Asians”).

What She Said:

“This is a deeply feminist film, one where men are given less screen time than the cameoing Cardi B and Lizzo.”

Helen O’Hara, Time Out

Twitter: @HelenLOHara

We first see Dorothy, a club newbie who goes by Destiny at work, lined up with the rest of the “parade of beauties” a DJ promises to reveal. The camera gets in line behind her, then follows at the back of her head as she and the others walk from the dressing area, through the main room’s spotlights and salivating eyes, up on stage, and then into the audience. Janet Jackson’s “Control” blares over the speakers, but the dancers don’t have much here, handing over some of their earnings to the house. Yet Scafaria gives it back to them in terms of how the camera watches them. There’s nudity in “Hustlers”, as one might expect, but it doesn’t feel gratuitous. It’s as if the camera doesn’t ogle the women unless they’re performing and they want to be.

Hustlers_Lopez and Wu

The Hollywood Critics Association named Scafaria among the year’s Best Female Directors and among five nominees for its Best Adapted Screenplay award. (“Hustlers” is based on a New York magazine article, “The Hustlers at Scores,” by Jessica Pressler, called “Elizabeth” in the film and portrayed by Julia Stiles.) The association also nominated Lopez (TV’s Shades of Blue) for her performance, which critics call as captivating and “career-defining” as her role in 1998’s Out of Sight.

What She Said:

“A lean, fierce take on the nature of female empowerment in an inherently corrupted world.”

Clarisse Loughrey, Independent (UK)

Twitter: @clarisselou

Lopez in Variety said the film has a “nonjudgmental lens,” which is true enough as far as its scheme. It doesn’t applaud Ramona, Dorothy, and friends for drugging Wall Street wolves to max out their credit cards after the 2008 financial crisis leaves the women floundering; but it makes their choices understandable. They operate in a world where everyone takes, and they’re tired of being beholden to other people. Here, a designer purse bought with a stack of dollar bills is an accomplishment, and a fur coat is a security blanket and a sign that you can take care of yourself. Like single mom Dorothy says at one point: “What would you do for $1,000? The answer is going to depend on what you have and what you need.”

hustlers_lopez-and-wu-pole.jpg

“Hustlers” has genuine laughs, like when Ramona teaches Dorothy to pole dance, the two of them collapsing in twisted poses and giggles; or when singer Lizzo, in a bit part, along with rapper Cardi B, says she likes nothing better when she’s off the clock than getting into her footie pajamas. But it’s not just a lark, and it’s more than “Goodfellas in a G-string,” long tracking shots like Scorsese’s mob epic aside. The women here—not just Lopez and Wu but Keke Palmer (Scream: The TV Series) and Lili Reinhart (TV’s Riverdale)—are complex and real, their performances like a striptease that reveal bit by bit. There’s camaraderie among them, partly because the women know they can make more money by working together, and also because they recognize each other’s hunger for power and respect.

What She Said:

“[Hustlers] creates fully realized female characters in a fascinating story that never shies away from the deeper implications of its narrative all of which combines to make it one of the most unique and enjoyable films I expect to see in 2019.”

Kt Schaefer, Next Best Picture
Twitter:@kt_schaefer

None of that’s clearer than when Dorothy, in awe of how Ramona owns a room, follows her up to the club roof. Awkward in a miniskirt, she asks for a light, but what she really wants is to bask in Ramona’s swagger in the hopes some rubs off. In a script rife with subtext, Ramona sees two steps ahead every bit of the way.

Hustlers_rooftop1

“Climb in my fur. You’ll freeze out here,” she says, enfolding Dorothy within that luxurious coat and settling in for a companionable chat.

“How come you’re so good?” Dorothy soon feels comfortable enough to ask.

“I don’t know,” Ramona says, with a wisp of a smile. “I guess I’m just a people person.”

The Extra Bits:

Where to watch

Amazon US: Buy

Fandango: Buy

Hustlers has not yet been released via Home Release in the U.K.

Who to follow:

Lorene Scafaria: @LoreneScafaria

Official Twitter Account: @HustlersMovie

Constance Wu:

Jennifer Lopez:

Julia Stiles:

Keke Palmer:

Lili Reinhart:

Cardi B:

Lizzo:

Kayla Emter: @kayla_emter

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