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The reviews for Hustlers are in.
The STXfilm feature directed by Lorene Scafaria is based on the New York article “The Hustlers at Scores” by Jessica Pressler. The story revolves around a group of strippers in recession-era New York City who drug and then rob their Wall Street clientele.
Leading the pack is Jennifer Lopez’s Ramona, followed by Constance Wu’ Destiny, Lili Reinhart’s Annabelle, Keke Palmer’s Mercedes and Julia Stiles as journalist Eliza, inspired by Pressler. The film also tacks on a few trending names to entice filmgoers, including Cardi B, who worked as a dancer before her music career took off, and fellow chart-topper Lizzo. Usher even makes an appearance, playing himself circa 2007.
Critics weigh in on Scafaria’s project (which has a 92 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes) that highlights the realities of women trying to succeed in their chosen profession, uphill battles, platform heels and all.
For The Hollywood Reporter, Beandrea July recounts how Hustlers has had a lot to live up to, being one of the most buzzed-about trailers this year. Agreeing with Shonda Rhimes’ excitement from seeing just the preview, July shares that Hustlers is easily “a movie made to be experienced with an audience.”
July notes that a film about strippers could quickly turn comical or stereotypical, but Scafaria, who wrote and directed 2016’s The Meddler, “excels at immersing the audience in the world of sex work in clubs,” turning the story into “part workplace dramedy, part revenge fantasy.” Comparing the film to 9 to 5, July adds the film is an “an incisive commentary on women in the workplace, including breadwinning mothers, navigating an economy that disadvantages them.”
While Wu’s Destiny is “sharp” and conveys “emotional vulnerabilities,” July focuses her praise on what she calls Lopez’s best performance yet. “Playing Ramona with understated confidence, the actress creates a tough cookie who keeps things light; she doesn’t question the rules of the game,” July says.
IndieWire’s Kate Erbland touches on Scafaria’s ability to successfully put a twist on the crime thriller genre, “if we must apply genre distinctions here,” she adds, as well as pull off the “ripped-from-the-headlines, can-you-believe-this-is real drama.”
Erbland notes the film’s narration by Wu’s Destiny and Stiles’ Elizabeth is a “neat twist of narrative plotting,” allowing the story to move back and forth with ease from past to present. As for the pacing of the film, the first half comes off as a “coming-of-age story” according to Erbland. Ramona tutors Destiny on how to excel in her world, and in time, the two devise a scheme with fellow strippers to essentially hunt for rich men, drug them, drag them to the club, and charge them for as much as plastic allows.
Erbland describes Hustlers overall as “funny, empowering, sexy, emotional and a bit scary,” much in part thanks to Lopez, who Erbland praises as “genuinely deserving of awards consideration.” “The fine line Lopez walks between fierce queen and relatable everywoman is essential to the rare balance the film strike,” Erbland adds.
The New York Post‘s Sara Stewart wrote that she “dared to be optimistic” about the film, but was ultimately disappointed. “Hollywood is long overdue for a movie that stomps back, in a 5-inch lucite heel, at the endless scenes of writhing strippers being used for cheapo filler in testosterone-fueled movies for approximately forever,” says Stewart. “But instead of being Ocean’s 8 with a kicky subversion of exotic-dancing club power, it runs out of steam early on (not to belabor the point, but it’s pretty soon after Cardi takes off) and contents itself with running through the same scenario ad nauseam.”
However, USA Today‘s Brian Truett was impressed. “Hustlers is empathetic and understanding in the way it looks at sex workers as also single moms and women just trying to get by in a world where the rich seemingly only get richer,” Truett writes. “It also works as an enjoyable, empowering extravaganza of physical humor, clever scriptwriting, exquisite fashion and scantily clad underdogs.”
Truett also declared that Hustlers sees Lopez in her best acting performance in decades. “Lopez is obviously a multi-hyphenate star but she goes supernova here in her best cinematic showing since 1998’s Out of Sight,” Truett says. “With Ramona, she creates a character very much into sisterhood and family, with enough instances of greed and questionable decision-making where her cryptic allegiances form an extra undercurrent of drama. And there’s the fact she’s just a showstopper and still a Fly Girl: Lopez has a pole-dancing routine set to Fiona Apple’s ‘Criminal’ that’s simply phenomenal and positively gravity-defying.”
Vanity Fair‘s Richard Lawson called the film “smart,” “sexy” and “dazzling.” Lawson elaborates, “Yes, it is the cool stripper-robber movie with the awesome cast. But it’s also a true movie for our era, teeming with the confusion and yearning and risk of life right now. It’s a deeply humane film, one that finds celebration, and illumination, in the dark spaces where so many grind.”
Mashable‘s Jess Joho deemed Hustlers “an unapologetically good time with a powerful message.”
“It’s a hot, savvy, steamy, sobering, fun, poignant distillation of American’s abusive relationship to capitalism. More specifically, it captures the impossibility of finding your power as a woman in a social system that insists on placing more value in you as property than as a person,” Joho writes. “While clearly sympathetic to the women behind the operation, Hustlers is also perceptive enough to show how we all get fucked over by the zero-sum game of capitalism to varying degrees. Whether a Wall Street bro or the stripper drugging them, everyone’s doing soul-sucking work that blurs the lines of legality and ethics.”
Joho did, however, mention that the film could have been edited down a bit. “The balance between Hustler‘s extremes — comedy and glorification versus tragedy and realism — isn’t always flawless,” she says. “Pacing is its biggest weakness; like most movies nowadays, it could benefit from a much tighter runtime.”
Still, Joho applauded the movie’s theme of female empowerment: It sounds cliché, but what makes Hustlers a truly Empowering Female Narrative is the depiction of womanhood in all its shades of humanity: beautiful and ugly, powerful and vulnerable, good and corruptible, victims and victimizers.”
For The Guardian, Benjamin Lee called Hustlers a “vicarious thrill” and a “giddy, gaudy blast of a movie.” Lee explains, “When the women are having fun, so are we, and for the most part, there’s plenty of it to be had, whether it’s watching a cameoing Cardi B teach Wu how to lap dance or Lopez trying to pay for a luxury car with dollar bills.”
Screen Daily‘s Stephen Whitty agreed with other critics that Hustlers is Lopez’s “career-best” as an actress. “Like the sequinned, simpering erotic dancers it spotlights, Hustlers is a lot smarter than it initially looks. Given a story about a gang of larcenous strippers, audiences might expect little more than dirty jokes and steamy sex. But this slyly feminist movie pushes empowerment, too; it’s a film about being in control, not losing it,” Whitty writes. “That makes it less of a giddily guilty pleasure than it could be, but aided by Jennifer Lopez’ career-best performance as a duplicitous diva, its celebration of female force and friendship is likely to draw and delight fans — particularly if they’ve first fortified themselves with a few frozen margaritas.”
Hustlers hits theaters on Sept. 13.
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