Hustlers – movie review. (minor spoilers)

Review by Dan Berry and Alanah C.

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Title: Hustlers
MPAA Rating: R
Director:  Lorene Scafaria
Starring: Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Lizzo, and Cardi B.
Movie length: 1 hour 50 minutes

What It Is: A crime drama film about a group of strippers led by Dorothy / Destiny (Constance Wu) who embezzle money from visitors to their club including stock traders, and CEOs. It is based on an article in New York magazine titled “The Hustlers at Scores”. 

Copyright Motion Picture Artwork © 2019 STX Financing, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

What Dan Thought: I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. The performances by Wu and Lopez were Oscar caliber, and the supporting cast including Stiles, Reinhart, Cardi B, and Lizzo were all terrific in their limited time on screen.

I’m not sure who handled the score and choices for music on the movie, but they did a terrific job pairing certain songs with the action on the screen. From songs that would be playing during the timeframe the movie was set (the movie is primarily told in flashbacks), to some classical Étude’s from Chopin, it was top notch all the way around.

The story is based on a true story, and the screenplay by the film’s director
Lorene Scafaria kept the story moving nicely. She spent some time in the movie with character development for the main characters, so you got to know them and why they are the way they are.

There was also a name drop of a certain celebrity from the era….which was followed by an unexpected cameo from said celeb. The audience at the screening seemed to like his appearance from the crowd noise when he showed up.

Dan’s Grade: A. The movie is a good change from the summer blockbusters now that we are in Oscar season, and I definitely see Jennifer Lopez’s role getting her an Oscar and/or a Golden Globe nomination for best supporting actress.

What Alanah thought:

The film exceeds all expectations. I’ll be stunned if it doesn’t get nominated for a bevvy of sound editing and music categories. The soundtrack to this grounded story about strippers and mothers is inspired – Chopin’s most delicate etudes stand side by side with era-specific club beats. Hustlers not only places you directly into a time frame by calling to mind dance hits from specific years – it also cuts into the neon-lit baselines and fog-machined underworld with classical piano and bright, sharp natural light. The mastery of imagery in this movie is sublime.

One swift cut to Destiny’s recurring nightmare is both shocking and incredibly effective, least of all because it references the same road from a devastating event in her young life – the day her mother abandoned her. I must admit that I didn’t know Constance Wu had the acting chops for a role as dynamic as Destiny, and I’m increasingly impressed with her. Still, I worry that she may be neglected during award season, because I’m positive that a supporting Jennifer Lopez nomination for her Ramona is imminent.

Coming to this film with the same compassion and empathy that we, as viewers, have always extended toward gang films by and about men is not only normal, it’s necessary. This is the same kind of story and its implications are just as affecting.  I reject the idea that – because this film stars and was made by women – we ought to arrive to the experience of viewing it on the defensive, as if to protect ourselves from “tHe fEmiNiSt AgEnda.” Doing the wrong thing in order to survive is a hallmark of gangland films, and this group of women are most certainly a gang: from the illegality of their actions to the interdependent family dynamic they have. Ramona isn’t a best friend to Destiny, or a romantic interest, despite the fact that they dance all over each other for a living. Ramona is a surrogate mother for Destiny to cling to, and what young thug wouldn’t do absolutely anything for their mama?

The more I think about Hustlers, the more I feel that it belongs in the same conversation as other gangland films like Reservoir Dogs, South Central, and The Outsiders. It’s not as grandiose as Gangs of New York, nor as familiar as the mafia-centric A Bronx Tale, but it’s just as effective. It’s a tale about Latinx and Asian immigrants as socially ostracized working people caught up in the reality of American strip clubs, drug deals, and dancers. It’s about the social and moral divide between the excessively wealthy and the desperately poor. It’s about found families, and the difficult balance of survival and doing the right thing, when you’ve been handicapped by a long-corrupt economic status quo. As Ramona states, the whole world seems to run on strip club rules: the only thing separating anyone is whether they’re someone that dances, or someone that throws money.

Alanah’s Grade: A+. I enjoyed the movie, and as I said above it exceeded all expectations. If it doesn’t get nominated for a bevvy of sound editing and music categories it will be a shame.

Hustlers opened September 13th in the United States.

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