The new crime caper, based on a true story about a group of strippers who start ripping off their rich clientele through a scheme involving drugs and credit card swipes, is enormous fun, starting with its very first scene. It’s a casually brilliant tracking shot tour of the strip club where Destiny (Constance Wu), as the “new girl,” walks from the dancers’ dressing rooms out onto the floor where men lustily cheer and shower money on the women who work at the club.
But as you’re distracted by all that razzle-dazzle and the movie’s many, many great jokes, Hustlers is quietly composing some deeply profound thoughts about the relationships women build with each other. These ideas percolate in the background of the film and only reach a full boil in its final act. But even there, writer-director Lorene Scafaria prefers a light touch to anything that might overpower the momentum.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
The result meshes popcorn sensibilities and personal sentiments in a way that never feels cloying or like it’s trying too hard. Hustlers isn’t a fatuous tale of empowerment; it’s also not ignorant of the sisterhood its characters find in the midst of their sordid deeds.
And so Hustlers cements Wu’s movie stardom and creates maybe the best role Jennifer Lopez has ever had in queen bee stripper Ramona. But the real star of this film might be Scafaria, who offers a glimpse of what a Scorsese-style crime caper would look like if written and directed by a woman.
Hustlers’ final third marks her as the kind of director who’s increasingly rare in American filmmaking and especially in populist American filmmaking: one with overriding thematic concerns they bring from movie to movie and genre to genre.