Hustlers (2019)

LORENE SCAFARIA

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB

USA, 2019, , , Screenplay by , Cinematography by Produced by , , , , , Music by Production Design by Costume Design by . Film Editing by Golden Globe Awards 2019.  Gotham Awards 2019Independent Spirit Awards 2019National Society of Film Critics Awards 2019.  North Carolina Film Critics Awards 2019.   Online Film Critics Awards 2019.   Philadelphia Film Critics Awards 2019.    Toronto International Film Festival 2019Washington Film Critics Awards 2019.  

Destiny () is the new girl at a Manhattan strip club who suffers all the aggravations that come with her arrival, namely the fact that she grinds up against poles and men all night for cash and then has to put most of it into every open hand that lines the path to the exit door. She worships Ramona, the alpha dancer at the club (played by the, as usual, supernaturally confident ) and is thrilled when she offers to be her mentor, teaching Destiny not only some fancy moves but also some very smart tricks on how to read the customers. When the economic devastation of 2008 means that Wall Street bankers are no longer bathing these girls in money, they decide to get creative about how to keep the cash rolling in, going beyond their home base and drawing their customers into their exotic lair.  Knowing that the first reaction an insecure man has to a beautiful woman is to convince himself that he’s fully in control, the girls go to bars and find cocky guys in suits who are wearing expensive wedding rings and watches, get them drunk and bring them back to the club where they max out their gold cards. As time passes and their marks get smarter, the girls hedge their bets by slipping some fancy drugs into the guys’ drinks that allow them to pull off their operations with fewer obstacles, at which point Destiny becomes ambivalent about what she is doing and it threatens a rift in what has been, up until now, a solid friendship with Ramona. Playing like a female GoodFellas with a boost of Flashdance (Destiny’s grandmother played by fills in for Lilia Skala), this incredibly fun film wisely relies more on its characters chemistry and the charisma of the women playing them and less on trying to deliver a tricky heist plot or overwhelm you with any kind of narrative irony. Scafaria’s remarkably efficient direction takes you through the decade that the story takes place (in which, as in real life, Lopez doesn’t age a day), framed within flashbacks that are generated by Wu’s being interviewed by a journalist (played potently by ); she maintains a steady scent of comedy throughout the process that never undermines the moral gravity of what these women have resorted to doing, while also allowing one to indulge in the pleasant fact that these women are robbing men who are doing far worse in their day jobs to the rest of America. The milieu within which the story takes place would make visual exploitation easy, but the director keeps nudity to the most achievable minimum while never being prudish about her protagonists’ work either, celebrating the magic they create when selling their customers a fantasy while giving a great deal of respect to the effort it takes to grind that magic out.  All the performances are great, with Lopez the best of them in the first role to really give her the chance to strategize and scheme since Soderbergh’s Out of Sight. It’s a shame that the film doesn’t include more opportunities to really show her running things, it’s her presence that makes more of an impression than anything she actually does (in fact the same goes for Mercedes Ruehl’s brief appearance as the club boss) but for what she is given the chance to do, Lopez shines.

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