In Hustlers, Lorene Scafaria provides us with a groundbreaking film about sex work and how it maneuvers the 2008 Recession while including an Oscar worthy performance by Jennifer Lopez.
The newest directorial effort from Lorene Scafaria is born from an article in 2015 from New York Magazine, “The Hustlers at Scores” by Jennifer Pressler. The film follows the cast of Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Lizzo, and Cardi B as dancers that try to maneuver their work during the recession in 2008 until the team of Lopez, Wu, Reinhart, and Palmer decide to drug powerful men from Wall Street then use their money to pay themselves and the club they want to support.
Obviously the film is directed by Scafaria, a woman, so the female gaze is at work in this film which makes it a much more interesting take. Let’s be real, if this film was directed by a man I cannot imagine it being this grounded and nuanced while not being entirely “graphic.” Even though they do play dancers at a strip club these women never really feel like objects because they are not only seen as dancers. We carefully examine and explore the life outside of the club of each one of these women. The film is seen through the lens of Constance Wu’s character who talks to a journalist portrayed by Julia Stiles as she recaps her life and the events that went down in the club they worked at during the recession.
Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez’s dynamic throughOut the film makes it a delightful and enticing moviegoing experience. Another aspect that I seem to have enjoyed so much was the music and attention to detail to create the time period this story takes place in. Usher comes into the club at one point and you cannot imagine the smile on my face as “Love In This Club” played during the scene. Todd Banhazl’s superlative cinematography creates the atmosphere of the film with some interesting writing choices by Scafaria.
Even though the script feels a little uneasy at times with to me feeling like it is balancing two tones at the same time. Lorene Scafaria still directs a hit, and there is something under the surface in this story about betrayal, sisterhood, and the paranoia surrounding the recession that makes it a surprising hit after those credits roll.
Other than what is stated, there seems to be an aspect of this film that stands out from the rest, and that is in the performance by one Nuyorican icon, Jennifer Lopez. Believe me when I say that Jennifer Lopez’s performance in this film is Oscar worthy. She is powerful, vulnerable, and an incredible mentor to these dancers throughout the film that is enticing and eye opening to watch on screen. J Lo is able to wrap herself around this character while truly becoming a “hustler.” The versatility shown by her will definitely push her for a campaign once Oscar season starts to ramp up.
Even though Ramona is in control, the film controls itself as it provides a bonafide hit that will grow with its audience throughout the year. Hustlers is an entertaining but heartbreaking film that you should definitely plan on watching.