Director-producer-writer Lorene Scafaria has returned from time away from film and television to write, direct and co-produce one of the fall's more interesting features. Hustlers, a comedy-drama which stars Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez, is Boiler Room meets Wall Street and Striptease and drives home the idea that one way or another people must hustle to get by. Bringing with it humor and drama, Hustlers is surprising in its delivery and boasts Jennifer Lopez in what is her best role since her turn in 1998's Out of Sight.

For those coming in expecting two hours of nudity and sex, please skip what is essentially a crime drama. Wu stars as Dorothy, a single mother struggling to make ends meet. Having to care for her daughter and her grandmother (Wai Ching Ho), Dorothy strips to support them. At the strip club she meets Ramona (Lopez), a fellow stripper who hatches a plan to scam wealthy men and become rich in the process. Ramona takes Dorothy under her wing and together they build an empire that becomes more successful (and more dangerous) than they ever imagined.

Thanks to Scafaria's script Hustlers shows audiences the importance of family and how love and loyalty dictate one's actions. At the same time, Scafaria's latest is another look at the effects of capitalism and how greed can destroy lives. Hustlers, from that perspective, plays out like a cautionary tale in a world where men and women are not equal and clearly treated differently, all within the comforting arms of sisterhood.

Wu, who made her big screen splash last year in Crazy Rich Asians, continues her hot streak. Dorothy is an interesting character because she's not a stereotypical Asian. Dorothy is a high school dropout; she has a GED and obviously didn't make it to college. She's struggling because growing up her only family was her grandmother, who now cannot take care of herself. In Asian households, family is very important, so Dorothy's situation is a change of pace and, more appropriately, a stark reminder that hardship knows no ethnicity, color, gender, age nor orientation. Wu, although, very good (and the lead, as Hustlers is told from her perspective), is forced to take a backseat to Lopez.

Lopez is undoubtedly Hustlers' gem. As Ramona, Lopez is charismatic, gorgeous (she's 50 and oh so fabulous) and smart. And as is always true with a hustler's mentality, she is ruthless when it comes to getting paid. It's within Ramona that audiences can see the good and bad results of greed. Lopez is amazing and she comes off as the sexy mentor who's capable of anything. Ramona is dangerous and her friendship with Dorothy makes things difficult when Dorothy realizes their scams have gone too far.

And I must comment - Lopez's introduction scene is stuff of legend. In just a few moments audiences can witness Ramona's power and the control she has over everyone. It's a testament to the diversity and conviction Lopez put in her performance and Oscar talk has followed since Hustlers premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 7th. It's more than just hype; Jennifer Lopez is a legit Best Supporting Actress contender.

And, along with co-stars Keke Palmer and Lili Reinhart, the four actresses share an undeniable chemistry that fuels nearly every scene.

In regards to its director, Scafaria is excellent at building relationships. Beginning as a mentor-pupil relationship, Dorothy and Ramona's friendship evolve into something much deeper, and it embodies all aspects of sisterhood and family. There's a scene during the final act where Ramona shows a journalist (Julia Stiles) a picture of Dorothy as a child and, despite all the highs and lows the two endured, Ramona speaks fondly of Dorothy. It's an emotional moment that is justified because audiences have seen everything leading up to that moment, and through thick and thin Ramona and Dorothy care so much for one another. This is another example of Scafaria and her love of relationships. She highlighted similarly relationships in her scripts for Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist in 2008 and with 2012's Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.

Hustlers isn't a family film per se, but it is a film that speaks highly about family. It's funny, emotional, serious and, with small roles for Cardi B and Lizzo, adds credibility and a coolness that other films lack. Regardless, Hustlers is a show that grabs your attention and manages to keep it throughout. It's worth a look and honestly (from a photographer's perspective) looks good, too.

4 stars out of 5


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