HUSTLERS marketing is very misleading…as it should be. Unfortunately, everything shown to you via trailers and TV spots is how it has to be to get your butt into the theater. For women, you go into this thinking its going to be just a zany girls comedy about strippers ripping off rich assholes. For men, you probably put on some oversized pants and hope to see just some trashy comedy and maybe Jennifer Lopez in a g-string or two, thinking that this is your Magic Mike. And while it is both those things to both genders, it is also so much more. All the stripper sleaze and comedic stuff is really only about 10% of this picture. The other 90% you get a character drama with incredible acting that does realistic justice to the “Inspired By A True Story” title card shown in the opening moments. All of it is nicely put together and packaged for anybody 17 or over to enjoy, and when unwrapping this oddity, you not only get the best film about strippers ever made, you get one of the most surprisingly entertaining films of the year and one of the very best films of 2019, period.
I am just as surprised as you are reading this. When I first saw the trailer for this thing, it was a complete pass from me. “Oh, this is probably like Magic Mike and Magic Mike XXL, but still somehow for women because of the conning of male assholes angle…only catering to men by possibly promising a little skin from Lopez, but none from the other main leads, yet a lot of naked stripper background extras. But then I heard some rumblings out of the Toronto International Film festival, and some friends that pre-screened it at my local theater, that said it was actually quite good. So after deciding to give it a chance, and once the really funny credits with the announcer voice started to roll, I realized I was right on the skin part, but very wrong on who this movie is for. Anyone, old enough in age, will enjoy this film. You don’t have to be a certain gender to see it, it has something for everyone, and it tells a realistic story. The problem with films like Magic Mike, it’s sequel XXL, and Striptease with Demi Moore is that all those felt like fantastical stories. Striptease went wayyyyy over the top with its tale, and while Magic Mike and it’s sequel was (kind of) based off Channing Tatum’s stint as a stripper, the really lame love story combinedwith an absolutely awful performance by the love interest, Cody Horn, and the over the top sequences in the sequel, with another abysmal performance by Amber Heard, makes all of those films abysmal and unbearable to watch. Hustlers feels like it’s trying to entertain you, but also be much more down to Earth. It’s what Goodfellas and Casino did for the mafia tale. Hustlers is the Goodfellas of stripper movies you might say.
And much more than just the idea, but also stylistically wise. When any movie nerd thinks about Goodfellas, they think about that films aesthetic choices by Scorcese, for example like camera work/shot choices, music selection, etc, etc. When watching Hustlers, (but remember, I watch films probably a shit ton deeper than the casual film-goer) all of these storytelling devices/choices by the writer and director of this film, Lorene Scafaria, came off the screen to me in spades, making me appreciate that this movie wasn’t just a shot by shot process, but contained the aura of a true film auteur. The music selection here is absolutely brilliant (best use of Lorde’s Royals I have ever witnesses), some auditory narrative cues are top notch (such as when Constance Wu shuts off Julia Stiles voice recorder), and the camera is steady when it needs to be, but also guerrilla style when the tone calls for it. When looking at all of this, and combine it with fantastic performances and an entertaining story, you actually have a near masterpiece here. This is only Scafari’s third picture (the other two are The Meddler and Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World, she also directed some episodes of New Girl) and is easily her best, with possibly the promise of being a serious Oscar contender some day.
I mean, do I really need to get into the story? It’s about strippers that were used to a certain lifestyle before the big financial crisis of 2008, where after a couple of years wanting that glamorous living back, several of them devised a scheme to rip off the rich elite by drugging them and running their credit card when inebriated. The movie’s marketing makes it seem like it is a little out of this world, aka Ocean’s 11 style, but like I said, the marketing is misleading. The cons these girls pull off are actually quite real, serious, and sometimes scary. The film does a great job in blurring that line between cheering for the girls to “get dat money” from these rich snobs, and then horrified when they rip off the wrong person (one who doesn’t deserve it), and wonder if they should be really sorry for what they have done. And the film doesn’t get into all that conning right away. The beauty of it is that it takes its time, letting us get to know our characters so that way, when this shady shit does start happening, we actually start to ponder the morality of it all. In fact, I don’t think the true conning starts until a little over halfway into the film.
And the acting? What would you think if I told you this is Jennifer Lopez’s show…and that it is easily her best performance…ever? Well it is. And was as surprised as you will be to witness it. I personally didn’t think Jennifer Lopez can act. She was decent in Out of Sight, but then she was in all those awful rom-coms (too many to list, none of them good) and while U-Turn and Anaconda were decent little fun flicks, she was abysmal in them. I’m not going to even mention Gigli. Now, I haven’t seen Selena, but after hearing how good she is in that film and then seeing her in this, I’m beginning to think she’s of the Nicholas Cage, Adam Sandler, and Seth Rogen variety. They are fantastic when they have those 1 in a billion roles they are perfect for (Cage: Leaving Las Vegas, Sandler: Punch Drunk Love, Rogen: 50/50). This is her 1 in a billion role that just makes her seem absolutely brilliant. Even though she’s more of a supporting player in Hustlers, this is her film, and she electrifies every time she is on screen. She displays absolute confidence in her role and presence on screen, and in another world, I could see her nominated for a Supporting Oscar, no fucking joke.
Constance Wu is the main, main character, and while I didn’t appreciate her real life attitude over Fresh Off The Boat not getting cancelled, she is pretty great here too, completely separating herself from that sitcom and her “oh shucks” performance in Crazy Rich Asians. She plays a real person here and I totally believed that she was a stripper. And before I get ahead of myself with the other acting, here’s a good question” does me having actually gone to strip clubs make a difference with how I felt with the movie? Yes and no. Yes acting wise because for everyone other than one of the actresses, they completely looked and acted the part of strippers that I have seen going to one of those places only a handful of times in my life. No, because even if I hadn’t ever been to a strip club, I would’ve still found the story enjoyable, fascinating and realistic. Cardi B, who once was a real stripper, fortunately is barely in this (maybe less than 3 minutes, as is Lizzo), as I could barely understand her one or two jokes or half the things she was saying other than “run out the clock, but don’t run out the cock.” She was definitely a believable stripper though…take that for what you will.
KeKe Palmer is also one of the main leads, and while I found her annoying and brash in things like Scream Queens and Scream Season 3, here, she is very tolerable and actually quite believable in her role. Julia Stiles is listed in the main cast, but isn’t a stripper, she has the nice cushy job in only being in the film for two or three scenes, mainly sitting in a chair as a journalist recording Constance Wu’s character’s story. I’ve always like Julia Stiles, and while I didn’t really believe her as a journalist, she gets a pass from me from her past stuff. The true weak link here is unfortunately Lili Reinhart, who plays one of the four main strippers. Basically, she plays her character as just another version of Riverdale’s Betty Cooper…who just happens to be an exotic dancer. Reinhart is just too pretty to be a believable stripper here. Don’t get me wrong, she isn’t terrible in this at all, it just felt she was cast because of her emerging success from that CW show, to get more teenagers to flock to the theater. She does have a good throw up joke throughout the movie that just gets funnier and funnier the more it is brought up though.
But yeah, I enjoyed the hell out of Hustlers. When the movie was over, I couldn’t believe the hour and 50 minutes was up. Time flew as fast as an 85-90 minute film it was that entertaining to watch. Maybe I’m hyping this thing too much because of my low low expectations going into it, but I’m writing this review with my heart, and in my heart I know I could watch this movie several times over, one of those you could catch on TV in the middle of, and either watch it to the end, or put on your own copy to start from the beginning and watch it all the way through. This movie made me rethink by top twenty of the year list, and have went back and tweaked it a little bit, bringing some movies back from the dead and then kicking some to the curb. That re-examination happens with very few films…which is saying something. If you have any interest in Hustlers at all, go see it, especially with friends. If you don’t have any interest, maybe my review could hustle your ass into the theater.