Now that the big film festivals in Telluride and Toronto are done, it’s becoming clear which movies are going to be the subject of passionate discussions this fall. One of those movies is Hustlers, directed by Lorene Scafaria and starring Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez as strippers who respond to the 2008 financial crisis, which also created a cash-flow crisis in the club where they worked, by drugging and scamming Wall Street millionaires. Hustlers is the subject of EW’s latest digital cover story, which anyone interested in the film should read.
But in case you need a basic introduction, here are all the main things to know about Hustlers as it opens in theaters this weekend.
What’s it about?
Hustlers is a fictionalized adaptation of “The Hustlers at Scores,” a 2015 New York Magazine feature story by journalist Jessica Pressler about strippers who figured out a way to out-hustle the hustlers on Wall Street thanks to a little bit of seduction and a little bit of MDMA and ketamine. The names of the main strippers have been changed for the movie (from Roselyn and Samantha to Dorothy and Ramona) but the basic contours of the story are the same. Even very specific details from the story are included in the movie (such as how, when the women returned to the strip club after the 2008 economic meltdown, “There were all these Russian girls and Colombian girls, and they were giving bl—jobs for $300”).
Here’s a succinct description courtesy of EW film critic Leah Greenblatt: “Behind the lap-dance dazzle, it’s essentially a story about class, friendship, ambition, and the things people do when money and morality meet (or rather, when they don’t).” Or take it from Lopez, who told EW that Hustlers is “about greed, power, and the American dream, and what a certain group of women, who worked in a field where they were degraded and discounted, will do to achieve it.”
Who’s in it?
Hustlers boasts a stacked lineup of acting talent, which is why you’ve probably heard of it already. Wu stars as Destiny, a woman who first starts stripping in order to provide for her grandmother and then starts scamming men in order to raise her young daughter. Lopez’s Ramona is her maternal mentor, taking Destiny under her wing (or into her fur, rather). When Destiny’s money runs out after the financial crisis and she goes back to the club, it’s Samantha who gets her in on the scheme to seduce and drug rich men out of their ill-gotten money.
Among the supporting cast are stripper-turned-reality-star-turned-rapper Cardi B and current Billboard Hot 100 topper Lizzo, who star as fellow strippers in the first act of the film. There’s even a meta-reference to Cardi’s real-life stripper past, when she instructs Desinty in the art of the lap dance. Riverdale‘s Lili Reinhart and Scream Queens‘ Keke Palmer fill out their crew of female scammers once the hustle really gets going later in the movie.
Julia Stiles plays a fictionalized version of Pressler, a journalist interviewing Destiny and Ramona (and authorities) after the fact about what happened (segments of those interviews frame the film’s narrative, like the scenes of Benedict Wong interrogating Natalie Portman in a hazmat suit during Annihilation). Singers Usher and G-Eazy also have cameos in Hustlers — the first as himself, partying in the strip club to the sound of his own song “Love in This Club,” and the latter as Destiny’s baby daddy.
Why should you know about it?
In addition to being a very good movie in and of itself (Greenblatt gives is a B+, and it currently has an 87% score on Rotten Tomatoes), Hustlers will likely also play a role in this year’s Oscar race; Lopez’s name has already been added to the short list for a supporting actress nomination. But even more importantly, Scafaria’s film has a lot to say about the last decade or so of American life. As Ramona says at one point, Wall Street financiers broke the law and caused the entire world economy to melt down and came away from it richer than ever. So why shouldn’t everyone try their own scams?
It’s a question that remains unanswered in American culture right now. In one essay from her acclaimed new book Trick Mirror, writer Jia Tolentino posits that thanks to the financial crisis, scamming has become the millennial ethos. Hustlers provides one example of what this looks like.
Where can you find out more?
Hustlers is in theaters this weekend, so seeing it as soon as you can is the best way to find out what all the fuss is about. You can also read EW’s digital cover story, and stay tuned to EW.com for more reporting about Hustlers to come.