HUSTLERS: Sisters Doing It For Themselves

Jennifer Lopez stuns in Scafaria’s film about a Great Recession-era con

Hustlers opens on a woman checking her makeup in a mirror as Janet Jackson’s “Control” plays. Constance Wu’s Destiny is the “new girl” at a New York City strip club; through a quick montage she falters and tries to find her groove in her new job. Then Destiny witnesses Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) dancing on the pole — a revelation for her character and for the viewer, as well. There is a power in the controlled movements of Ramona’s performance which fascinates Destiny, and Ramona becomes her mentor. Then the recession hits.

Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers is (loosely) based on Jessica Pressler’s 2015 magazine story, “The Hustlers at Scores,” about a small group of women who drugged (primarily) wealthy men and stole money off their credit cards. As Ramona states to convince Destiny to join in the con, the powerful men they’ll target are dealing with “stolen money” anyway — and getting away with it. That Wall Street bankers could bypass any real penalty for their part in the Great Recession provides a reason to root for these wily women— don’t these men deserve some form of punishment?

Scafaria’s script doesn’t necessarily condone the con, but provides reasoning for such behavior. Times are hard for the former exotic dancers, so they do what they can to come up with funds. Julia Stiles plays Elizabeth, a reporter character inspired by Pressler, who coaxes the story out of Destiny, Ramona, and the men they conned.

Wu’s Destiny is the foundation for the tale. She often voices her desire to control her own life, and Ramona’s scam allows her to do so. Her nightmares of being stuck in the backseat of a driverless car illustrate her fear of losing control. Short piano compositions by Chopin accompany her confessions to Elizabeth.

The con is the center of the article, but the bond between Ramona, Destiny, and the other women in their circle is at the core of Hustlers. Scafaria’s film celebrates women supporting each other. Her film brings to mind Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sou’s “shine theory,” as Ramona and Destiny encourage and assist each other through years of friendship… until things begin to fall apart.

Lopez stuns from her first glittering moment to the end; the viewer easily understands why Destiny would want to befriend her and learn from her. It is a treat to see what the multifaceted performer can do when given a chance to exhibit her many talents — here we see the standout actress from Selena and Out of Sight. Her Ramona is a loving mother and caring friend with a cunning mind and a keen desire to get what she believes she deserves.

The stars are supported by a standout cast of others, including Lili Reinhart (Riverdale) as an easily overwhelmed member of the hustler crew, a hilarious Keke Palmer as another cohort who wants to help her boyfriend get out of jail, and musicians Lizzo and Cardi B as Ramona and Destiny’s former co-employees at the club. There’s a surprise cameo early on in Scafaria’s film; the excitement and joy the girls show for this famous club visitor parallels how I felt, sitting in the theater, waiting to the end of the credits and regretting that Hustlers was over.

Hustlers is now playing in theaters nationwide.

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