Movie Guru: ‘Hustlers,’ based on a New York Magazine article, provides an interesting take on the Wall Street movie trope
Rated R for pervasive sexual material, drug content, language and nudity
Screenplay by Lorene Scafaria
Inspired by Jessica Pressler’s article for New York Magazine
Directed by Lorene Scafaria
Starring Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Cardi B, Lizzo, Mercedes Ruehl and more
Grade: Three and a half stars out of four
‘Hustlers’ is the best Wall Street movie of 2019.
That’s not a joke. The movie has exactly the same heft and narrative arc as all the best Wall Street movies out there. Based on an article from New York Magazine’s fashion and women’s vertical, the Cut, “Hustlers” is an epic tale of innocence lost. It dives into the poisoning effect power can have, how the scramble up the ladder never really ends and what’s worth sacrificing to get there. Even better, we get a hefty dose of emotional depth along with the moral complexity, an element that most Wall Street movies seem to forget. The absolutely fantastic cast is just the icing on the cake.
The film focuses on Destiny (Constance Wu), who starts the movie as a stripper desperate to make enough money to take care of her grandmother. She befriends Ramona (Jennifer Lopez), a much more successful stripper who takes Destiny under her wing. The two begin making a lot of money off the Wall Street executives who frequent the club. They crash right along with the economy in 2008. Afterward, the women start using more serious measures to get the money out of men, a process that soon slides into dangerous territory.
Though there’s a considerable amount of crime in the movie, “Hustlers” never plays any of it as a heist film. The cons the women end up running on the men are structured exactly like a business, from the outsourcing to the complex network of deals it takes to make each successful transaction happen. You root for them when they’re the little guys, the same way you do the innocent young man who enters the cutthroat world of high-stakes finance, and mourn when their ethical boundaries inevitably start to slip.
Unlike those movies, however, the heart of “Hustlers” is something far more interesting than one person’s slide toward moral relativism. The real story is the friendship between Destiny and Ramona, a complex, multi-layered thing that for a time seems as richly satisfying to them both as any love story. The two are a fantastic team — Lopez’s Ramona is a people person, while Wu’s Destiny is good at working out the more practical angles. They also serve as an emotional resource in the face of difficult family situations, which makes it that much harder when their different approaches to life start to clash.
The rest of the cast is wonderful as well. Keke Palmer and Lili Reinhart are the two other women who served as the main core of the team, both of them offering a fascinatingly different mix of innocence and experience. They also extend the excellent chemistry Wu and Lopez have with each other, making it easy for audiences to believe that the women really did feel like family to each other.
As we all know, though, even that kind of love often falls in the quest to make it to the top of the food chain. The tragedy of “Hustlers” is a familiar one, but it’s a delight to see it so interestingly told.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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