Hustlers [TIFF19 Review]

When Hustlers was first announced as part of the line up for TIFF, many raised an eyebrow. All we had really to base our expectations for the film was a trailer that, after watching the film, doesn’t do justice to the film itself. Based on an article published in New York magazine in 2015 from Jessica Pressler titled The Hustlers at Scores, Hustlers tells the story of Dorothy (Crazy Rich Asians’ Constance Wu), a stripper in New York City who with her mentor and friend Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) find themselves going from stripping to stealing from Wall Street guys during the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash. Smart and empowering, Hustlers takes an out-there story that seems implausible and creates a film full of fully-formed women that take no prisoners.

Hustlers isn’t just about strippers stealing and making money, it’s about female empowerment and friendship. The relationship at the centre of the film is the one between Ramona and Dorothy, their ups and their downs dictate the film. Even the interview that is the set up of the film, the one that inspired the feature itself, is all about Ramona and Dorothy. Without them and their friendship, the event of the film would never take place. It’s refreshing that the profession they chose is never made to be something less, they feel empowered by what they do, even when it all goes wrong. Empowering is probably the best way to describe this film, you walk away with a feeling that you didn’t have before, a feeling that you can do anything. What I appreciate is that you can see this film was written and directed by a woman, not only the way the subject is handled but also the way the film is shot. Even when they strip, the film isn’t there to please the male gaze, never do the men have power in this film. Only women do.

But the story isn’t everything. You can have the best story in the world and your film will be the worst because the acting in it isn’t on par, then the film won’t hold up. The thing that makes Hustlers is the perfect casting of its ensemble. From Lizzo and Cardi B as strippers or Keke Palmer and Lili Reinhart as the comedic relief, Hustlers is filled with great acting but it’s really Jennifer Lopez that steals the film. If everyone is in top form, Lopez came like a wrecking ball. Commanding every scene with a poise we haven’t seen from her maybe ever, she never falters in her determination. Ramona is more than just a character, she breathes life, fully formed with a past, present and future. Lopez has never been in better shape than with this film. The rest of the cast is also amazing, I was pleasantly surprised that I found myself enjoying Cardi B’s acting. But the film truly belongs to Lopez and no one comes close to being able to steal it from her.

What is great about Hustlers is that it’s fun. It could have been a serious film but in Lorena Scafaria’s (The Meddler) hands, the film becomes this fun and up-tempo film. It’s a testament to the writer/director who finds a way to create humour in what can be considered to be a very dark subject. The way the film is written, edited and performed makes it something that you don’t expect. You laugh with them, you laugh at them and you find yourself enjoying the film way more then what you would initially think. It’s charming and gut-wrenching too, but it never veers into overdramatic which I always appreciated. Hustlers could have been a disaster but Scafaria doesn’t let it.

Hustlers is a surprise, a film that you don’t expect anything from and walk away not being able to stop thinking about. It’s pure pleasure from beginning to the end, a film that delivers on every promises that it makes and isn’t afraid to take risks. Instead of going the known route, it decides to do something different and make it all about female empowerment. If Hustlers wasn’t on your radar, add it now because it is worth to go and see it.

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