Hustlers (2019) was meant to be a film about female empowerment. And it was, to a certain extent. I expected and wanted this to be a kickass and complex film of sexy women who use their confidence, skills, and wits towards a brilliant plan to get revenge on the Wall Street guys who wronged them. I'd imagined an Oceans 11 vibe and plot. The film was disappointing, but even more than that — it was quite frankly a bit boring at parts. I’m saddened to admit it. Although the film is based on a true story, it would’ve been wise and skillful had the director and writers taken more artistic liberties to make a blockbuster-worthy story. Maybe my expectations were too high, a set-up for likely disappointment. Review originally posted in 2019. (Note: spoiler alerts ahead)
The female friendship scenes had great aspirations but unfortunately fell flat due to poor delivery, even to the point of being cringe-worthy. It’s a shame, seeing as there was such star power in the cast — Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez are usually stellar actresses, but as Destiny and Ramona, they were not very compelling. It’s admirable that the movie tried to show a story of women loving and caring for each other as close friends, but in terms of conveyance, it came out tacky. The laughs and friendship seemed inauthentic, even forced. There were rumors of drama behind the scenes, although Constance Wu disputed such stories as “an age-old attempt to pit us against each other and knock us down”, and Jennifer Lopez defended her co-star. Perhaps the directing style induced poor acting. Maybe the actors were asked to do too many retakes of the scenes, which caused the friendships to seem forced. Speculation aside, the BFF scenes appeared contrived and “trying too hard”.
Overall, not much happened throughout the movie. The whole film reamed like a montage of stripping, drugs, and sex. There’s nothing inherently wrong with montages of stripping, drugs, and sex — and it was entertaining to watch… at first. However, the film substituted too many gratuitous party scenes for any substantial plot or character development. The story and scenes that existed could’ve been done in 45 minutes instead of 107. Overall, the characters didn’t really do too much. The women basically just seduced and drugged the men to steal their money. There was nothing too complicated involved.
The story mainly focused on Constance Wu’s perspective. It was empowering to see a story told from the point of view of an Asian woman. This may be the first time there was an Asian female lead in a film with an array of non-Asian supporting actors. Very cool to see. However, the film could’ve done a better job with it, and Constance Wu didn’t give her best performance. Even the parts where Destiny gave her grandma money could’ve been more emotional and convincing. Overall, I thought Constance Wu didn’t give her A-game — while there was so much at stake. The film didn’t explore Ramona’s (J.Lo) background too much, which could’ve added interesting content to the story.
Hustling in general can be empowering. However, straight-up drugging people — men or otherwise — without much skills is not very interesting. In addition, ending the film with the protagonist betraying all her friends is just horrible and anti-climatic. Although the other women understood and forgave Destiny for betraying them, it just gave a poor taste that the lead we followed throughout the whole movie just backstabbed her sisters. The situation was similar to the classic prisoner’s dilemma, and the lead messed it up. I’m concerned that this film reinforces stereotypes that women can’t lead or create a good story. That being said, it’s not very fair that so much weight is given to certain films like this just because there are so few of them. That’s a lot of pressure and responsibility. However, this is the situation that currently exists, and if the producers were going to create a girl-power movie, they should’ve aimed to be more competent and awe-inspiring. This was definitely a “nice-try” — type of film.
It would’ve been cool to see an all-star female line-up like this executing an Ocean’s-Eleven-level of revenge. Something that takes more brainpower, sexier seduction (sexy as in more alluring and intriguing), more suaveness, and better girl power. Geena Davis, Catherine Zeta Jones - level empowerment, or Awkwafina-level humor would’ve been great to see. The film did take a try in the right direction for inclusion, and many people did enjoy it! However, for any who were disappointed — I hope they realize it was a bad film because it was poorly made, and not because it starred diverse women. Similarly, I hope that producers don’t interpret that an Asian female lead can’t carry a movie — because this is the only instance, and it didn’t hit the mark. If the same lesson were gleaned from the audience's reaction to Kristen Stewart in Twilight, there would be no white female leads going forward. It’s compelling story-telling and acting that makes audience members fall in love.
This review explores disappointment with Hustlers. For the importance of Hustlers — see The Heroes of Hustlers movie review