Lorene Scafria’s Hustlers, based on the 2015 New York magazine article “The Hustlers at Scores” by Jessica Pressler, is a riotous, razzling and dazzling Scorsese-lite dramedy about a group of strippers conning a succession of Wall Street CEOs and stock traders in the wake of the Great Recession. This film features Crazy Rich Asians’ Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez in her best role since 1998’s Out of Sight.
It is also a film about female friendship: it is legitimately interested in the unannounced intimacies that make up those relationships, a friendship’s meaning and significance, and the larger role they come to serve in people’s lives. These relationships operate quietly, in the background, never disrupting the film’s narrative momentum and stylistic assertiveness, taking us lightly aside only in the final act to reveal how much we’ve watched them build up.
Hustlers is largely centered on a race- and age-diverse group of women, while men get about as much screen time as the cameos by Cardi B and Lizzo. Working as a stripper, moreover, is given the dignity and nuance found in cinematic representations of any other profession. The women display and perform their sexuality while always maintaining control of its presentation, and they never shame each other for it or even use it to compete amongst themselves.
The basic solidarity underlying how Scafria depicts all these women calls to disheartening attention how little most Hollywood films make the effort and space to empathize with, humanize, and actually understand their female characters. This summer’s Booksmart, directed by Olivia Wilde (now available on Digital HD!), is another recent exception. Both films demonstrate the often overlooked benefit of increasing the breadth of stories that female directors and screenwriters are given the opportunity to tell.