I recently watched The Kitchen, a movie I had no knowledge about, which included some above the title leading actresses who turn in decent performances in an underachieving movie. Well now I've seen Hustlers, a movie I had no knowledge about, which included a couple of above the title leading actresses who turn in excellent performances in a movie that lives up to and exceeds its potential..
Lorene Scafaria (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World) adapted the Jessica Pressler story from New York Magazine which she directed as well. It looks at Destiny (Constance Wu, Crazy Rich Asians) and her just starting out in a New York strip club. She strikes up a friendship with Ramona (Jennifer Lopez, The Boy Next Door), the most senior of the dancers and the one who has the most clout in the club. Ramona takes Destiny under her wing and shows her how to dance and the tricks of the trade to make cash. The film shows the women and the other dancers before and after the recession of 2008, when Destiny returns to work at the club, and eventually their need to make money for themselves outside of the club. It's not prostitution, but it is drugging rich men and getting their credit cards and passcodes to drain their bank accounts under their noses, so it's certainly just as criminal, if not moreso.
Scafaria manages to do a lot of things right with the film. It pulls you in and shows you what the girls do at the club to maximize earnings while minimizing risk in an inherently sort of dangerous job. It also shows you the camaraderie and fun that a lot of the girls in the club share; there is a cameo by someone thrown into the mix of the usual ‘rise to the top' montages that other films sort of do and it fits well within the film and the characters, and seems pretty spot on to occur within the context of events, that it reinforces how much the ensemble believes in the material and gives their all for it. The characters are incredibly human, going through mistakes that are understandable for them because they're doing something new, or doing a trial and error that results in a lot of laughs.
Other moments aren't as light, but they are just as effective, notably a scene where Destiny is taking her daughter to school, but she had not had the chance to change. The staring, the judging, is done well, showing people in the periphery not saying anything, but everyone knows what they're thinking. Scafaria juggles all of the moments well, and the work of Lopez, Wu and the other ladies is engaging. I would even go so far as to call the third act events a little bit on the Goodfellas tip; the characters in both films are generally not worth redeeming, their fates are inevitable and are told pragmatically by both directors.
Jennifer Lopez has been receiving a lot of recognition for her work in Hustlers for good reason but it should be noted the film is more than just one performance, with a story that draws you in and keeps you close for most of the film. The backdrop of the recession and the motivations of and after effects in its characters is a little erratic, but not much of a deterrent for an entertaining movie that is appearing on a lot of 2019 Top 10 lists for a reason.The UHD
The 4K presentation of Hustlers is top notch; with vivid purples and pinks coming through in the darkly lit club. Flesh tones are natural and pores in faces are readily discernible in Destiny's interviews with the writer (played by Julia Stiles!) about their exploits. Old Navy and similar big box shops radiate with bright white lights, and natural exteriors are clear and background details are just as evident, presenting a multidimensional look. If you've got a 4K display, you couldn't do much better by showing it off with this.The Sound:
The Dolby Atmos track pulses from the early moments and never relents. The film's numerous songs sound as clear as can be, the bass from the club pounds and the club DJ (Jay Oakerson!) comes in clear over the PA. Dialogue through the film sounds consistent through the front of the soundstage and doesn't drop out at all, and Scafaria plays around with sound and music effectively through the film; you've never hear so much Chopin in a stripper movie in your life! Quality sound.Extras:
The big (well, only) extra on this set is a commentary by Scafaria. In it, she talks about the process to land the cast, raving about the supporting cast and the dynamics between the actors. She looks at the larger themes in the film and also gets into some scene breakdowns, and the difficulties and ease of landing music rights and/or working with Lopez on set, on location. It doesn't add too much to the film but it's a nice track to listen to.Final Thoughts:
Hustlers is a Jennifer Lopez movie but more than that; a movie featuring strippers but more than that; a crime movie but more than that. Scafaria makes the movie into something that is enjoyable, emotional and sympathetic to those involved. I think if another director got involved with this film it could have been a bit of a mess, but this proves to be a fascinating story. Technically the disc looks and sounds great, and the supplements could have had a boost to them. Nevertheless, it's definitely worth checking this one out.