Based on the marketing for Annapurna Pictures’ most recent feature, “Hustlers,” one would think this is just another raunchy slapstick comedy along the lines of “Bridesmaids” (2011) or “Rough Night” (2017). Not that there’s anything wrong with those kinds of films. After all, “Bridesmaids” did indeed manage to nab a couple of Oscar nominations. And, ever since the “Hustlers” premiere at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this month, there’s been a surprising amount of Oscar hype around the film, particularly in regard to Jennifer Lopez. As someone who has only ever really been impressed with the pop star’s acting in “Selena” (1997) and “Out of Sight” (1998), I was shocked. But as someone who also loves when comedies get award nominations, I kept an open mind, and it turns out Lorene Scafaria’s new film actually has a lot going for it.
In 2007 New York City, Destiny (Constance Wu) is making ends meet by working as a dancer at the city’s most popular strip club. She doesn’t just need the money for bills and groceries, but also for her grandmother, who lives with her. When veteran stripper Ramona (Lopez) suggests they form a small group of their closest colleagues from the club to steal from wealthy men after the downturn of their business from the 2008 housing market crash, things get a little too deep, at least legally speaking.
Julia Stiles works the role of a journalist reporting on the strip clique, while Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, and Madeline Brewer co-star as fellow strippers. “Hustlers” is loosely based on the 2015 article in New York Magazine, “Hustlers at Scores,” by Jessica Pressler. The movie is what “Coyote Ugly” (2000) would have been if the producers had embraced an R rating and gotten rid of the love subplot. The tone isn’t comedic, though there is a decent amount of comic relief, and the characters are successfully crafted to be both relatable and endearing. Though it does feel like a weak start to Oscar season ahead, Lopez’s consideration isn’t filler, and she holds her own throughout the two hour picture. She also reminds us that she can be taken seriously when in the right role, and that she’s not just an appropriate choice for romcoms.
Wu is also solid in her role, and exhibits a range that covers both comedy and drama, though she is unfortunately working with some seriously unflattering short bangs as part of her character. It’s interesting to see how differently both women, Ramona and Destiny, respond to being in a controversial line of work while being single mothers, and it helps us understand where each is coming from.
The most impressive aspect of “Hustlers” is Scafaria’s script and direction, which are a huge improvement from her previous movies, “Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist” (2008) and “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” (2012), both of which were arguably regressive in their portrayals of young women. This time, though, Scafaria shows a smooth, mature side of storytelling.
Though not exactly a good fit for a date night movie, “Hustlers” would be a good call for a night out with a group of friends or a night out alone.