Credit Lorene Scafaria for making Hustlers one of the best movies of 2019. Yet another example of the correct person in the director’s chair making all the difference.
Let me start this off by admitting that I slept on Hustlers. When I saw a movie that was about strippers and then was about strippers who were going to be Cardi B’ing men (and that Cardi B was in it) I accepted that it wasn’t for me.
However, I listen. There were way too many glowing reviews for me to continue to ignore this movie. Whether or not I ended up enjoying it, I needed to be able to have an educated opinion on it. So I went.
Very early on I realized that Hustlers was not what I thought it was going to be and by the end I was ready to accept that this was definitely one of the best movies I’ve seen this year and one of the best crime thrillers I’ve seen in several.
Hustlers makes you care about the ladies before you ever get sucked into the crime-thriller aspect of the movie. It’s a movie about strippers that doesn’t overly sexualize the women. You can tell there were no men involved in the writing or direction as the male gaze was absent and it made all the difference.
The cast of Hustlers is excellent top to bottom. Starting with the smaller roles, played by big name people, the movie notably featured Cardi B and Lizzo. I appreciated that both were given their moments to shine and those moments did not in any way feel like they were forced. Both added to the feeling of sisterhood between all of the girls at the club with their performances. Though they both played characters that seemed to fit within their real life personalities, this didn’t bother me either because they worked within the context of the film.
Moving to some players in larger roles, Hustlers got the most out of the rest of the supporting cast also. Keke Palmer’s Mercedes and Lili Reinhart’s Annabelle came into the fold in a major way later in the movie and added to the stakes. Both characters were likeable and matched Constance Wu’s character, Destiny, as younger women that were going to be drawn in by Ramona (Jennifer Lopez)’s mother-bear personality. It truly felt like every character was maximized and for that reason I’d have to say Lorene Scafaria
may definitely deserves a Best Director nomination.
While Constance Wu was technically the main character in the film, the show was definitely stolen (for me at least) by Jennifer Lopez. From her first scene Ramona took over the film. Her presence within the club translated very clearly to the screen and the fact that she seemed to genuinely care about all of the girls made you appreciate her character that much more. A beautiful, strong, and smart woman who is secure enough in her ability to take care of herself that she is fine with bringing up the new girls and showing them the ropes. When things went South for all of them, rather than trying to secure her own bag she comes up with a way to help them all. Regardless as to how you feel about what they were doing it’s hard to fault Ramona for trying to look out for her friends.
Now I may be biased as it was an 11 year-old Bibs that fell in love with Jennifer Lopez when “If you had my Love” (and I did want it) dropped, but it has been years since I’ve really paid attention to her career. Seeing her in this role brought all of that back in a way that makes me respect where she is today and if this role gets her any award recognition it will be well earned.
Having a real life story to work with definitely helped the story resonate but there were ways that it could have been improperly sensationalized. I appreciated that Scafaria managed to make the story entertaining and avoid lulls in the action while keeping the gritty nature of the operation alive.
The transitions from act to act were seamless and there wasn’t anything in the movie that felt like it could have been cut without affecting the experience. Everything meant something. With my title, I am referencing the idea of sisterhood and the thrill of the ride. We don’t really get that in Widows because there were too many other things going on. I don’t recall connecting with the characters in that movie beyond Viola Davis’ and that, plus the expectations, killed Widows for me. In Hustlers we get the sisterhood, we get the thrill of the chase, the close calls, and the downfall.
I enjoy learning about real life events. With Hustlers, we get even more perspective on how the recession affected people. We’ve seen movies like The Big Short that focus on the people who caused the recession and how it affected them, but what about the collateral damage that it caused? (I’ll use this as an opportunity to plug The Legend of Cocaine Island which is another fun story about the crash that I could see being made into a movie.)
The men that go to the club that the girls dance at are mostly traders. We get a breakdown of the hierarchy (based on how much they’ll toss at the club) and then we see how that scene changes when a lot of those men lose everything. The whole vibe of the club is different post-recession and this is what leads the girls down the dangerous path of drugging men and stealing their credit cards.
The beauty of this story is that it does not ask you to be sympathetic to either side. Not all of the men are assholes and the girls are playing with their lives in a few instances which nobody deserves. You sort of have to accept the story for what it is.
When things came crashing down (unless you already know) you do worry about what will happen to the ladies. Ramona and Destiny are both single mothers and anything that happens to them affects their kids too. It’s awesome perspective and another way to look at a period of time that affected us all.
When I first entered the theater for this movie I felt awkward seeing either women or couples filling most of the seats. I hunched in my seat and was uncomfortable. By the end I was fully engaged, laughing out loud and left wide-eyed from the experience. An amazing job by all involved and a movie I’d highly recommend to anyone mature enough to handle the subject matter.
PS. When I was looking for pictures I happened upon this story about how hard Scafaria fought to get this movie made. It shows in the work but this was also a great read.