Designer clothes and designer drugs fill the screen in Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers, inspired by a true story adapted from a New York magazine article. Focusing on a group of strippers who must figure out creative ways to make money after the 2008 financial crisis, this is a crime saga that often feels like a Mob movie trading tailored suits for Juicy Couture and exotic heels. There are dramatic drawbacks and a lack of character depth in the director’s screenplay. It also features a dynamite performance from Jennifer Lopez and a pounding music score that renders this mostly gratifying.
Constance Wu is Destiny, who’s just nabbed a gig at NYC strip club Moves. She’s a novice in her new trade, but life perks up when she falls under the mentorship of fellow dancer Ramona (Lopez). They form a strong bond (Ramona is a mother figure that Destiny never had) and are a financial force among the Wall Street types that frequent the establishment. This turns out short-lived as the bottom drops out of the economy within a few months.
Destiny leaves the business and has a child from an unhealthy relationship. A lack of income brings her back to Ramona. However, the dollars aren’t rolling in like they used and Ramona is singularly focused on ways to keep the coffers filled. That’s when the duo enlist fellow employees Mercedes (Keke Palmer) and the weak stomached Annabelle (Lili Reinhart). The quartet takes on scores away from Moves and it involves drugging deep pocketed gentlemen and running up those black cards.
Hustlers is told in flashback as a journalist (Julia Stiles) interviews Destiny, who’s conflicted and guilt ridden about her actions. That trait does not apply to Ramona as she feels little sympathy for their marks. The picture is filled with energy when Lopez is onscreen, even if the script shies away from what motivates her (beyond the obvious monetary considerations). Destiny’s story and Wu’s portrayal is less captivating.
It is rather refreshing to watch something that has a Scorsese influence, but filled with much different looking glamorous law breakers. There’s no traditional score in Hustlers as the soundtrack is turned up loudly with primarily pop and hip hip hits from 2007 to 2014. A woozy sequence set to Scott Walker’s late 60s track “Next” turns out to be the musical highlight. We also hear a lot of Janet Jackson, who Lopez herself used to dance for. Other than some occasionally effective bits extolling the virtues of this odd family, don’t look for too much substance here other than the ones up a patron’s nose or mixed in their drink. Yet this is undeniably a pleasurable experience while it lasts.
I didn’t assume I’d be writing an Oscar Watch post for Hustlers, but it’s emerged out of Toronto with that distinct possibility in one category. Based on a 2015 NewYork magazine piece about a group of strippers who embezzle money from Wall Street types, the dramedy from director Lorene Scafaria is being called a wildly entertaining crowd pleaser.
Hustlers debuts next weekend and the critical reaction points to potent box office returns. Constance Wu of CrazyRichAsians gets top billing, but it’s Jennifer Lopez who’s said to steal the show. I wouldn’t be surprised to see STXfilms mount a serious campaign for her in Supporting Actress.
The actress and singer has never been nominated for an Academy Award. Early in her career, she received raves for Selena and OutofSight. Hollywood loves a big comeback role and Hustlers could fit the bill for voters to solidify it. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…
A group of actresses, many also known for their musical talents, play exotic dancers who take on wealthy Wall Street men in the dramedy Hustlers next weekend. Lorene Scafaria directs a cast led by Constance Wu (in his first big film role since breakout CrazyRichAsians), Jennifer Lopez, Keke Palmer, Julia Stiles, Cardi B, Lili Reinhart, and Lizzo.
Based on a 2015 NewYork magazine article, Hustlers looks to tap into an often undeserved audience of minorities and women. It could be well positioned to do so. Wu and Lopez have their followers and I certainly wouldn’t underestimate the participation of Cardi B and Lizzo, who have consistently been producing Top 40 hits over the past few months.
The budget for the pic is reported to be between $20-$30 million and I believe that’s where the opening weekend should fall. If Hustlers tops $23 million, it would give Lopez her largest life action start ever (ahead of 2005’s Monster–in–Law). I’ll say it does and that would give it an impressive #2 debut behind the second frame of ItChapterTwo.
Hustlers opening weekend prediction: $31.5 million