Each year, there are movies that I feel were overlooked by major awards bodies. In this 5-part Oscars column called “The Case For…” I will discuss and make a case for a few of the movies released in 2019 that I think deserve attention as Oscar voting is just getting under way. After The Lighthouse, Knives Out and The Farewell, today is…
THE CASE FOR… HUSTLERS
“Money makes the world go round.”
Few events in modern times have been more tragically impactful than the financial crisis of 2008, the biggest crisis since 1929. We’ll always remember the employees of Lehman Brothers leaving the building with their boxes, after the company’s collapse, but that was only the peak of the iceberg. The still ongoing crisis has ripped families apart, annihilated the future of at least two generations (the unfairly maligned Millennials and Generation X), indelibly influenced world politics. With little to no consequences for the people who caused it.
Very important films have been made about it: Margin Call, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Big Short. Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers joins this group of films, but it does so by telling a story about the victims rather than the perpetrators of the biggest financial crime of the last decades. Ramona (Jennifer Lopez), Destiny (Constance Wu), Mercedes (Keke Palmer) and Annabelle (Lili Reinhart) are strippers working at Moves, one the most popular adult clubs in Manhattan, and one of the favorites by the wealthy men of Wall Street. They are sexy, smart, charismatic and they know how to lighten the pockets of their clients. Their careers are flourishing and they are able to elevate themselves from the hardships previously endured. 2008 will change their lives dramatically: the sudden collapse of Wall Street has drastically cut down the number of clients attending the club, and after an unsuccessful attempt at reinventing themselves as retail workers, these four resourceful women come up with a dangerous but lucrative scheme to
The beauty of watching a film like Hustlers is witnessing its evolution. It starts as a story about a young stripper, Destiny, and her mentor, Ramona, helping her navigate a world that is still mostly unknown to her, but it evolves into a film about the empowerment of a group of women trying to get revenge on the world that has left them powerless. They are mothers and daughters, and they are ready to go all the way to protect themselves and the people they care for. Lorene Scafaria, the writer/director behind the film, accompanies them through their perilous journey, without judging them or making their actions look lighter, and this is the entire point. Women are not described as heroines or saints, they are shown as perfectly fallible human beings, but who can count on less social resources. Their standards are always held higher: men don’t have to be good-looking for a job, women do; men don’t have to be young, women do. Their attitude is constantly under scrutiny, and their sexuality is an object of attraction as it is of criticism. Thus, women are restricted by a social construct that vilifies them. In this sense, Hustlers is almost a twin sister film to Steve McQueen’s Widows (a perfect double feature, if you ask me): women are left to clean up the mess left behind by greedy, avid, sloppy and sometimes treacherous men.
Hustlers has probably been the biggest surprise in terms of critical reception. Just another flashy film about high-end Manhattan strippers? It is, until it is not. It doesn’t keep itself from observing the internal world of stripping, but it only becomes an introduction to the lives of these four women and the world around them. It’s an indictment of society as a whole (“It’s not just New York, the entire country is a strip club”), and Lorene Scafaria injects it with a Scorsese-esque excitement and energy, directing an extraordinary cast led by an even more extraordinary Jennifer Lopez at her career-best, completely deserving of an Oscar nomination. In 10 years, Hustlers will become one of the snapshots of our age.
HUSTLERS SHOULD BE NOMINATED FOR:
Best Supporting Actress – Jennifer Lopez
Best Adapted Screenplay – Lorene Scafaria
Best Editing – Kayla Emter
Best Soundtrack (if this category existed)