Hustlers (4 stars)

Lorene Scafaria on Hustlers: 'I really wanted to tell a story about how capitalism affects women'

Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu front a glamorous caper based on a real-life crime

Martin Scorsese was originally approached to direct the film optioned from Jessica Pressler's New York magazine article about a group of former strippers who conned Wall Street clients out of money by drugging them and maxing out their credit cards. When he declined, Lorene Scafaria (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World) stepped forward. She peps up this real-life crime story with raucous comedy, copious glamour and a stellar cast of pop stars and actors who bring irresistible moxie to their roles.

There are shades of the wit and grit of Scorsese's Goodfellas and The Wolf of Wall Street but Scafaria combines it with a refreshingly sincere approach, akin to Steven Soderbergh's Magic Mike. There's as much emphasis on the hard physical graft of pole dancing as there is on the joyful way the characters interact with one another. Scafaria works wonders with a blend of Chopin, pop and hip hop on the soundtrack, cross-cutting open-plan offices and strip club floors as comment on capitalism.

The central relationship between Destiny (Constance Wu) and Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) plays out as a beautifully complex platonic love story. The leads are joined by Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, rap sensations Cardi B (who has been outspoken about her largely positive experience as a stripper) and Lizzo (whose famous flute gets a look in), alongside Madeline Brewer, Mette Towley, Trace Lysette and Mercedes Ruehl.

The timeline of their dicey pursuit of the American Dream runs from 2007, through the financial crash in late 2008, and up to 2014 where we meet Destiny chatting to reporter Elizabeth (Julia Stiles). Her recollections break up scenes of the gang of women on shopping sprees or manipulating and mock-flirting with creeps, without interrupting the flow. The interludes where Destiny and Elizabeth get to grips with the risky hustle are handled in a comical manner until they eventually graduate to confrontation and shame when events get considerably darker.

Wu turns in a sophisticated performance as she switches between nervous, blithe and furious at the drop of a hat and her dynamic with Lopez pops with convincing intensity throughout the highs and lows. On their first meeting at the strip club, Scafaria smartly focuses on the women's glowing bodies and faces, rather than the punters' POVs. As Destiny admires this powerful woman from afar and gets swept up in her scheme, Scafaria places the viewer in their six-inch heels for a hugely entertaining cavort that's by turns gorgeous, funny and surprisingly moving.

General release from Fri 13 Sep.

Hustlers

  • 4 stars
  • 2019
  • US
  • 1h 47min
  • Directed by: Lorene Scafaria
  • Cast: Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Lizzo, Cardi B
  • UK release: 13 September 2019

Destiny (Wu) and Ramona (Lopez) are strippers who, with their friends, devise a way of getting more cash out of their clients. Wu gives a sophisticated performance and her dynamic with Lopez pops with convincing intensity, making for a raucous crime story that’s by turns gorgeous, funny and surprisingly moving.

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