Comparisons to Scorsese are apt, but Hustlers’ sense of outrage and extraordinary female gaze feels like a fresh explosion of talent and perspective in a genre exhausted by Adam McKay. He is merely a producer here, allowing Lorene Scafaria to bring her sharp editing and narrative flair to a real-life story of robbing from the rich to rebuild an industry decimated by the 2008 recession. Constance Wu confidently carries the film as Destiny, an exotic dancer who supports her ailing grandmother and is taken under the wing of Ramona (a truly scene-stealing, Oscar-worthy Jennifer Lopez). Their bond takes on a new dimension when, to fill the now-empty clubs, they start drugging the Wall Street elite and fleecing them of thousands. The cast is rounded out by women who command attention through the ever-changing scenes and schemes (no man shows up in more than a tertiary role – a refreshing change for Hollywood).
While a tour-de-force thriller, Hustlers’ 110-minute run time is not quite long enough to explore some of the murkier moments, when classism and stereotypes against strippers come to the fore. One scene during one of Destiny’s conversations with an Ivy League-educated journalist (Julia Stiles) highlights unconscious assumptions and biases underlying allyship; while the story storms ahead, the dynamics of this relationship are underexplored. Likewise, the protagonists’ agency and dignity is a step in the right direction for the portrayal of sex workers in cinema, but the plot’s focus on their criminal scheme – no matter how outrageous or justified – does nothing to dispel societal perceptions of the industry.
Hustlers approaches an often-sensationalised topic with smarts, letting its women navigate the big and little politics of their robberies authentically. Its sharp focus and sense of fun make the film a gloriously, defiantly female-focused and voiced paean to the post-recession American dream.
CAST: Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Keke Palmer, Julia Stiles
DIRECTOR: Lorene Scafaria
WRITERS: Lorene Scafaria (screenplay), Jessica Pressler (article, ‘The Hustlers at Scores’)
SYNOPSIS: In the wake of the 2008 Wall Street crash, a group of strippers devise a drug-fuelled scheme to support themselves and their families.