The Hustle is a new slapstick, female buddy comedy about two con-artists set in the posh South of France where old money flows as freely as the finest champagne. We love Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson on their own, so getting to see them team up to use their comedic powers for bad is an absolute guilty pleasure. When we say they use their powers for bad, we mean they play hustlers who use their feminine wiles to steal money from arrogant rich men and the result is simply hilarious.
In the movie, Josephine (Hathway) and Penny (Wilson) make a bet to see who can steal a large chunk of change from a wealthy tech billionaire (think a young Mark Zuckerberg), Thomas (Alex Sharp), and will get to claim a pirate’s rule over the booty of the lush coastal town of Beaumont-sur-Mer.
If the plot sounds a bit familiar, it’s because its taken almost directly from the 1988 film Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine, who also play con artists who prey upon vulnerable, rich women. The film was ripe for getting the gender flip, but does The Hustle meet the rigid, politically correct feminist standards of 2019?
Not at all, and that’s why we love it.
For so long, men have been giving the pass to behave badly on film. Movies like Ocean’s Eleven, The Sting, and A Fish Called Wanda have allowed men to use their darker talents to take advantage of their marks and audiences have reveled in it. Everyone likes a crafty, scrappy underdog who can stick it to the man (or woman). Last year’s Oceans 8, also starring Hathaway, succeeded in flipping the gender of the scoundrels and The Hustle is following in its footsteps, but perhaps sticking more to the original tropes where the bad guy (or girl) is bad through and through and makes no excuses for their behavior. For these characters, greed is good.
Take this exchange between the refined Josephine and crass Penny:
Josephine: “Why are women better suited to the con than men?”
Wilson: “Because we’re used to faking it?”
Josephine: “It comes down to one universal truth. No man will ever believe a woman is smarter than he is. We will always be underestimated, and that is what we use.”
Both Hathaway and Wilson summon all their self-deprecating silliness to get all the poker chips, cash and diamonds they can from any balding Texas oil man or bougie tech entrepreneur they can find.
At one point, as Penny tries to evoke sympathy from Thomas, the nerdy billionaire, she pretends to be blind. Is it politically correct to derive humor from someone’s disability? Absolutely not. But Rebel Wilson can successfully sell ice to the Inuit with her slapstick physical comedy – a feat that no one since Carol Burnett has been able to do. Wilson is so emotionally and physically committed to the con, the audience can’t help but laugh when her white cane causes destruction. The joke isn’t that Penny’s pretending to be blind, the joke is that Josephine knows the deception and tries to expose Penny at every turn, making it a contest of wit and prowess.
The film is taking a lot of heat for this sequence from critics, but we can’t help but wonder if a man was faking being blind in a comedy, would it be as offensive? Or would we just give him a pass and say, ‘Well, it sure was funny” and let it go?
Both actresses are at the top of their comedy game here as both are resourceful in ways we haven’t seen before. Physically, they are opposites and the film gets into a groove when it plays up their differences for laugh-out-loud chuckles.
The Hustle is an hour-and-half of female-driven comedy that may not prove women to be smarter than men, but hilariously proves women sure as hell can be as funny as men, and that alone makes it the female buddy comedy we all deserve.
The Hustle opens May 10 in theaters.