“Hustlers” took a long time to get made but it sure was worth the wait.
The empowering crime saga, directed by Lorene Scafaria and inspired by true events, premiered at the Toronto Film Festival on Saturday night to an appreciative audience. Jennifer Lopez stars as a veteran stripper called Ramona who leads a group of younger strippers into a life of crime as a way out of poverty.
But before she does that, Lopez delivers a jaw-dropping performance on the pole just a few minutes into the movie and sets the tone for the commanding, high-energy events that follow.
A natural leader, Lopez takes newbie stripper Destiny (Constance Wu) under her wing and soon the duo is making heaps of cash that affords them a lavish lifestyle. However, when the 2008 financial crisis hits, business at the club stalls and they are forced to find money elsewhere. Ramona, Destiny, Mercedes (Keke Palmer) and Annabelle (Lili Reinhart) start to meet wealthy Wall Street guys and spike their drinks with a mixture of ketamine and MDMA to get their credit cards from them. Predictably, things spiral out of control.
The story unfolds through Destiny’s eyes as she retells her story to a journalist, played by Julia Stiles. Every once in a while Destiny stops the interview to question the journalist’s motives, even asking her what she would do for $1,000.
Wu’s performance is surprisingly vulnerable, and perhaps her best work yet. Lopez plays the matriarch to the other strippers with the aim of helping them live better lives. When it all fails, she shatters on screen and for a moment, we see regret for what she’s done.
Cardi B, who sadly is in the movie very little, adds some spunk to the film. But what truly stands out is Scafaria’s script, as it weaves through the complicated storyline and never delves into the right or wrong of hustling. Instead it’s an empowerment tale, about women doing what they can to support themselves and their families.
Yes, the ladies are doing highly illegal stuff, but you root for them anyway. With their victims are the worst kind of Wall Street guys, the movie is an unexpected crowd pleaser. Plus, the soundtrack will leave you bopping in your seat to songs like Britney Spears’ “Gimme More.”
The first people to see the finished film at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday were heard raving about it on the way out of the Roy Thomson Hall.