Hustlers Review: Fun performance and flashy style doesn’t save familiar storytelling
With powerhouse performances from Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez as well as entertaining and engaging story, Hustlers has the moves and beats to be an instant crowd-pleaser but is weighed down by familiar storytelling and an emphasis on style over substance.
The film, based on the New York Magazine article by Jessica Pressler, follows Destiny (Wu), a stripper that starts at a New York City club to earn a living and help her grandmother (Wai Ching Ho). While her and the rest of girls’ clientele is made up of every tier of worker on Wall Street, the girls can barely get by with what they make, and Destiny is looking better opportunities. So, when she meets Ramona (Lopez) at the club, Ramona teaches her a few tricks to earn extra cash and the ladies start to earn a little more money. However, when the 2008 financial crisis takes a huge hit on their business, the girls start to look for a way to gain their Wall Street clientele back and form a plan to earning more cash than they ever imagined. Although things run perfectly at first and the girl’s drug, swipe, and run plan seems to give them the upper hand on the Wall Street guys they dance for, things take a turn that could land the ladies into some trouble with the law.
The performances in Hustlers are what set it apart and make it an infectious good time. Wu, coming off of her great performance in Crazy Rich Asians, adds another great performance to her filmography. As Destiny, Wu brings a strong emotional element to the film that touches on the motivations and reasoning to want to turn the tables on their not so friendly clientele. There’re some very touching moments where Destiny struggles to deal with issues with her grandmother, having a child while working as a stripper, and even clients stiffing her that really hit viewers where it hurts.
Lopez also puts in a strong performance and her physical dedication to the role really shows Ramona’s strength’s as a stripper. She really brings out Ramona’s frustrations that are hard not to understand and sympathize with and this desire to find a better life can be felt throughout the rest of the girls. Personally, I think that Wu and Lopez could have the chance for some awards, however, it’s hard to fully feel that way when their characters and their story lack the unique details to set them apart.
Most of the time, it’s hard not to notice similar storytelling methods to films like The Big Short or The Wolf of Wall Street and it makes the film’s story all too familiar. Hustlers delves into some of the details of the profession and the way the girls find success, but I wanted so much more. Frankly, most of the other girls pretty much get shelved to being comedic relief and while I really enjoyed the humor that Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Cardi B, and Lizzo brought to certain moments, there’s a severe lack of details about them to make me care for them. There’s a moment where Reinhart’s Annabelle refers to the group as a family and it’s completely unearned because rather than have characters open up with one another, the film is pre-occupied with flaunting their success and showing them turning the tables. It makes the connection viewers have with the characters much less personal and the personal relationships between characters aren’t the only thing that’s a little unbelievable.
The story also suffers from a lack of variety when showing the group turning the table and it makes what they’re doing not come off as believable. Every time the group spiked their client’s drink, it’s done in the same bar, in plain sight, and, generally, the same girls – so it’s hard to believe that either no one would catch on or that bartenders wouldn’t stop them. If the bar scenery had changed or there was some attempt to hide what they’re doing, it would come off much more believable than it actually does. It’s also worth mentioning that I found the cutaways to Destiny talking to a journalist (Julia Stiles) to be incredibly cliché and unnecessary. I didn’t feel as if it added much to the strength of the story and just broke the overall momentum of the film.
Where Hustlers and writer/director Lorene Scafaria are their best is actually with the strong style the film offers. The film looks absolutely gorgeous thanks to Scafaria’s camera movement, the dancing from the cast, and the cinematography from Todd Banhazi. I actually loved how Scafaria chooses to change the audio to fit what happening within the scene as it made it more immersive into the moment. Even the music choices made in the film really elevate the scenes they are a part of and, like I said before, the performances are gleefully fun so there’s some fun to be had watching Hustlers.
So, while Hustlers has the performances, fun style, and interesting perspective to be a fun watch, it’s familiarity and lack of detail stop it from being much more. It’s definitely possible that Wu and Lopez could easily be in contention for performance awards later in the year, but overall, the performances are the only aspect that make Hustlers more than what it is.