Based off the 2015 article published in New York magazine, “Hustlers” follows new girl Destiny (Constance Wu) as she navigates the world of stripping with the help of expert dancer, Ramona (Jennifer Lopez). As the story unravels, the film’s supporting cast grows with actors Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Julia Stiles and brief cameos from rapper Cardi B and singer Lizzo.
This cast caught attention as soon as the trailer dropped. But the question on everyone’s mind: can they pull it off?
At its core, “Hustlers” is a typical stripper movie. Lower class women who are desperate to provide for their families are forced into stripping. The perverted white men who fill up the strip club have no moral compass. Alcohol and drugs become recurring themes.
This standard narrative is what attracts a mostly male audience, making it seem as if the film’s only purpose is to fulfill the deepest desires of the men watching. It’s hard to find a stripper movie that doesn’t depend on elements of voyeurism.
But director Lorene Scafaria turns the genre on its head, forcing the audience to forget everything they know about strippers. Unlike a typical stripper movie, “Hustlers” emphasizes the camera’s purpose as a vehicle of storytelling. It’s not there to watch these women, the camera is experiencing the world with these women.
Rather than fixating on nudity and eerily lingering on women’s bodies, the camera acknowledges their sexuality while also exploring their humanity. Within the first few minutes, the film distinguishes itself by opening with a long tracking shot of Destiny starting her first day on the job.
This opening shot is what film critic Christy Lemire compares to a Scorsese mob flick. “It’s ‘Goodfellas’ in a G-string,” writes Lemire. “But Scafaria’s film is always a blast to watch, resulting in a surprising level of emotional depth.” She’s right. The film is surprising for various reasons, but what’s breathtaking is the film’s level of seriousness.
Partly due to cinematographer Todd Banhazl, the film is an immersive experience that explores these women’s lives. Rather than exploiting or mocking them, the camera treats them as worthy of screen time, which is what moviegoer Brandon Alcalde appreciated the most. “I loved it because it was very empowering for women,” explains Alcalde. “It shows their beauty, strength and leadership.” Which is part of what makes “Hustlers” so different.
From its leads to supporting actors, the film attains an authentic and raw chemistry that can only be done once. Wu, Lopez, Palmer, Reinhart and Stiles interact with such comfort and fluidity, it’s easy to forget they’re acting.
As for Cardi B and Lizzo, their transition to film is nothing but flawless. These women embody their characters and manage to create an entirely new layer to the film. “Hustlers” is a friendship beyond words. It’s an intimate experience that captures the complexities and realities of female relationships, sexuality and power. Not only does this allow the film to engage with its audience, but it also focuses on its roots.
Together Scafaria and Banhazl manage to capture the essence of the story the film is based on, while also replicating a period of time rarely shown in Hollywood.
In an interview with The Atlantic, costume designer Mitchell Travers describes what made “Hustlers” different in terms of fashion. “What I found really refreshing about this script is that there aren’t many movies that depict this timeline yet in the way that you can go to Los Angeles and go pull costumes for the ’70s and the ’80s and the ’90s,” reflects Travers. Scafaria is responsible for conducting this attention to detail.
Scafaria took her job seriously and did her research. Something which Johanna Sapakie — the pole consultant for the film — also feels strongly about. While coaching Jennifer Lopez, Sapakie tells The Ringer that she emphasized the importance of accuracy. “Because of the stigma around the content, this movie can’t just happen,” explains Sapakie, “It needs to be earth-shatteringly great so that there’s no reason for people not to give it the credit it deserves.” A goal which unites the film’s entire team.
Filled with stunning cinematography and seamless transitions, “Hustlers” is an elegant work of art. It’s fluid and natural, yet raw and distinct. The entire cast brings something different to the film, creating effortlessly powerful chemistry. It’s hard not to fall in love with each and every woman on screen. The film is artistic, seductive and demands attention. By unifying serious filmmaking, female sexuality and humor, “Hustlers” achieves its own perfection.
Email Brianna at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @brisilvv.