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« Latin American happenings in the Oscar submission realm | Main | Horror Actressing: Amy Irving in "Carrie" »
Monday
Sep092019

TIFF: Lorene Scafaria Ascends with "Hustlers"

by Chris Feil

After Hustlers, give Lorene Scafaria the keys to the kingdom. After writing and directing the character-based comedies The Meddler and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, she steps into crime comedy territory with all of her generous character detail unsacrificed as she steps into a new genre. Here she’s made something that feels like kicked-in doors and popped champagne bottles. It’s women behaving badly as a natural extension to an ecosystem led by men who burn the world down to serve their own interests, and it’s as entertaining as it is because of Scafaria’s balance between the affectionate and the defiant.

But while the film will immediately cause comparisons to ubermale crime sagas likes of The Wolf of Wall Street or examinations of the final crisis like The Big Short, Hustlers is less of a familiar retread of those films than it is two middle fingers blazing in their direction...

As originally detailed in Jessica Pressler’s 2015 article “The Hustlers at Scores” published in The Cut, the film follows the true story of New York City strippers that scam wealthy men in the aftermath of aughts financial crisis. Constance Wu stars as Dorothy, a loner who flourishes within the community of female performers, but especially under the motherly care of Jennifer Lopez’s Ramona. Once the financial bubble bursts, Ramona hatches a scheme to dupe (and drug) Wall Street executives and their sort into offering up their credit cards. The tight-knit familial unit (with other ace supporting players including Keke Palmer and Lili Reinhart) that they develop gets compromised however once the flimsy plan eventually goes sour.

The film’s foremost triumph is Scafaria’s. Hustlers moves with an undeniable, propulsive energy, immediately immersing us into a playground of female solidarity and male objectification. The director quickly establishes the slippery morality of the environment that contextualizes the shoddy justification of their crime, but even moreso lays the foundation for the emotional stakes between women where connection can mean survival. This is Scafaria’s richest achievement, an instantly rewatchable and quotable pop extravaganza made all the more special for the depth she delivers quite casually.

For Wu, the film allows the actress to discover Dorothy and her more confident and direct stripper pseudo persona Destiny with interesting contradictions. Wu alternately opens up as she isolates, slowly realizing the arrangement has fooled and trapped her into a false sense of belonging. As she relays the story to Julia Stiles’ stand-in for Pressler (a perfunctory but thoughtfully used framing device), her vulnerability lends Hustlers an undercurrent of raw humanity that Wu shouldn’t be disregarded for. Though the film largely operates as an ensemble piece, the story ultimately pivots on her emotional journey.

But what is likeliest to set most conversation and movie screens ablaze is Jennifer Lopez firing on all movie star cylinders as the architect and godmother of the entire enterprise. With the grand dame warmth of Rosalind Russell and the offhand wit of a Kathleen Turner, Lopez is a complete sensation. Her Ramona arrives with full throttle star persona and then surprises with her openness, with Lopez making her crueler, dominating traits arrive unexpectedly and without apology. It’s a perfect role for her underrated gifts and a delight unlike any of this year’s star performances, but her complexity throughout shouldn’t be underestimated. We simply don’t get many performances like this.

Upon meeting Ramona and climbing into her fur coat as instructed, Dorothy exclaims “How are you so good?!” with awe. The film is essentially two hours of that feeling, both for Scafaria and Lopez.

Without reaching for prescience, Hustlers is one of the most thoughtful cinematic examinations of the financial crisis for how it shows the downstream effects felt by people exploited by the men at the top. It also thunders with some of the year’s greatest song cues and backstage scenes that demand this thing be seen with a crowd. For something enraging, glorious, and most of all compassionate, everyone should climb in Hustlers fur. A-

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Reader Comments (22)

Man, I suddenly can't wait to see this. Do you agree with the many pundits who say that J.Lo most certainly may be Oscar-nominated for this? Because that would blow my mind (in a good way).

September 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

JLo in "Out of Sight" was better than at least 2 of the actual 1998 nominees.

September 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterParanoid Android

I've read a tweet that someone said about no justice if Jennifer isn't so this review and others may be right,there's always someone we don't expect entering the race and J Lopez is A Star.

September 9, 2019 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

Joker for best film and Jello for best actress!

September 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSwifty

I was ambivalent at best about both this and Joker, and now I might have to see both

September 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPoliVamp

I am very excited for this and a J.Lo. awards run would be so much fun. I would love to welcome her back to good movies. Out of Sight is one of my favorite movies of the '90s and deserved much more attention upon release.

September 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Who wore it better?

Jennifer Lopez: HUSTLERS
Matthew McConaughey: MAGIC MIKE

September 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDAVID

And Jakob Tremblay for best actor. Sh*ttiest Oscars ever!

September 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJane

I can't wait. I actually quite loved Seeking a Friend and had this one my (albeit distant) radar. Now it's must see.

September 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSawyer

The thought that Lopez has finally given a great performance again and may even get awards traction?

Warms my heart.

September 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterKermit_the_frog

When J.Lo is good, she truly is excellent, so it has been exciting seeing all of these positive reviews for her.

I don't know if I see her making it to nomination morning, but I could easily see her winning a few critics awards and a more populist nom (like the Globes or BCFA) like McConaughey. It could pave the way to an oscar nom/win for more conventional fair in the coming years.

Looking forward to seeing Wu here too.

September 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

Even if she is good in a stripper film, which is not a stretch for her, does she really deserve an Oscar? I find her really shady -- she didn't even sing on her first few albums, she took credit for it anyway, she's chummy with dictators and shady rich people, and she has lied to the police. Just saying, be careful what you wish for.

September 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

"Even if she is good in a stripper film, which is not a stretch for her"

I didn't realize Jennifer Lopez was a stripper. Better not nominate Robbie, Zellweger, or Johannson, they play actresses.

September 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

My mom wants to go watch this hahaha is it an awkward movie to go watch with my mom??

September 9, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterowen

J-Ho. Stole singers' voices.

September 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMango

Will Lopez compete in Lead or Supporting?

September 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMichael R

I'm so excited for the success this film looks to be. JLo is an amazing actress with classics like Selena, Out of Sight & The Cell. I knew i was right to be excited for this once it was announced. Hated Seeking a friend but really enjoyed Meddler so Lorene's talent is not surprising.

In terms of Jennifer's oscar prospects currently she has the raves to get in. Other than Laura Dern no one is safe in supporting actress but of course these are early days still. I'm seeing the film Sunday and will judge then but I can see her getting in based on merit and clout she has to have in the industry.

September 10, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterEoin Daly

J.Lo needs to go lead. Every single review I have read singles her out as walking away with the movie. It sounds like an Olivia Colman/The Favourite situation.

Also, this season will be unbearable if A-List Mega-watt celebrities all greedily compete for supporting statues with lead performances (Pitt, Damon, Lopez, etc.).

September 10, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAaron

Academy Award® winning actress Jennifer Lopez.

September 10, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterLuke

How wonderful that Jennifer has excelled as a stripper and a grifter.

September 10, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterGP

An Oscar where Adam Sandler and J-Lo as Oscar nominee. It has really gone downhill since last year. LMAO

September 13, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterFr

If Lopez goes lead she's not getting nominated. They oughta campaign her in Supporting if they want a shot at a nom. It is a proper supporting role, the movie is Wu's story for the most part.

September 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTony Ruggio

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