Title: ‘The Hustle’
Director: Chris Addison
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Rebel Wilson, Alex Sharp, Ashley McGuire and Nicholas Woodeson
Ruthlessly pursing their dreams won’t truly benefit anyone if they also don’t have a sense of heart and compassion to back up their callous nature. That’s certainly true for the two cunning protagonists in the new comedy, ‘The Hustle,’ which MGM is releasing in theaters tomorrow. The movie, which is inspired by ‘Bedtime Story’ and ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,’ offers a compelling, fascinating and modern gender switch on the con genre. Penned by Jac Schaeffer, who’s also one of the scribes of ‘Captain Marvel,’ and helmed by first-time feature film director, Emmy Award-winning producer, Chris Addison, ‘The Hustle’ smartly thrives on the natural bond between its stars, Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson. The on-screen duo effortlessly complement their drastically different characters’ one similar goal: to gain the same recognition and success for their tireless work ethic as their male counterparts.
‘The Hustle’ opens with con woman Penny (Wilson) meeting an unsuspecting man she’s connected with on a dating app at a New York City bar. Much to his disappointment, Penny doesn’t look anything like the picture she sent him online. She then explains that the woman in the photo is her sister, who needs $500 for cosmetic surgery before she can meet him. He’s more than willing to give her the cash, in order to fulfill his fantasy, until she’s chased out of the bar by another man she previously targeted with with the same scam. So she decides to travel to Europe to escape the pursuit of the men she conned.
Fellow con woman Josephine (Hathaway) is then shown pulling her own con in a casino in Beaumont-sur-Mer, a village along the French Riviera. Masquerading as a ditzy American who just won the lottery, she cons a womanizing European gambler into giving her his wife’s priceless bejeweled bracelet, with the stunt ending in Josephine’s sudden arrest and exposure as a con artist by a tough cop (Ashley McGuire), who’s actually also in on the scam.
Following their respective scams, Penny and Josephine meet while aboard a train, during which the American is once again up to her usual tricks, in order to fund her way through Europe. Josephine doesn’t want her fellow passenger, who she views as a crass interloper, interfering on her scams. With the help of her accomplices, including her butler, Albert (Nicholas Woodeson), and the aforementioned police officer, she teams up with Penny on several cons, in an effort to get rid of her.
Much to Josephine’s dismay, Penny ultimately proves to be a worthy accomplice. Since she doesn’t want to admit that Penny can actually help her, Josephine makes one final attempt to get rid of the woman she believes to be a less worthy counterpart. The French con artist proposes they both set their sights on one last target, with the winner earning the ultimate grand prize in money before they separate. They settle on Thomas (Alex Sharp), a young and naive wealthy tech genius who invented a popular app. Penny pretends to be suffering from hysterical blindness, and informs Thomas that she needs money to pay Dr. Schuffhausen, a physician she invented who can cure her, and who Josephine impersonates. While the two women compete to earn the affections of the tech inventor, they also discover along the way how much they really complement and need each other in the grand scheme of life.
While ‘The Hustle‘ is an overall predictable, by-the-numbers con comedy that’s driven by the outrageous and exaggerated situations the lead characters find themselves in, the movie deserves credit for the sensational and natural chemistry between Hathaway and Wilson. The Oscar-winner’s instinctive knack for wit and the MTV Movie Award-winner’s talent for physicality, showcase their natural ease at playing their respective roles, which were seemingly written and tailored just for them. The duo infuse their daring characters with stellar personality.
Hathaway clearly relished the opportunity to infuse the upscale Josephine with seeming ruthlessness and aloofness, as she protects her true vulnerabilities while targeting her victims. The successful con woman happily manipulates people with an ease of control and hostility, as she doesn’t want people like Penny to witness her longing to secure a sense of purpose and self-worth.
Wilson, meanwhile, offers the perfect balance to her co-star’s controlled performance, as she effortlessly shows how determined Penny is to also find companionship and acceptance amongst her schemes. Penny is intriguingly and superficially presented as having as much of a sense of control as her more financially successful counterpart. But under a closer examination, Wilson’s captivating performance highlights just how much her character longs to gain the same respect by Josephine that she gives her.
‘The Hustle’ features an equally intriguing comedic and emotional sensibility in its two take-charge, determined and enthralling protagonists. Hathaway and Wilson were perfectly cast alongside each other as distinctive, fierce and intense women who have the same goals in achieving monetary success, but are driven by their own unique circumstances. While the story doesn’t delve too far into Josephine and Penny’s backstories and motivations into why and how they started conning men, it offers a powerful message that women are just as entitled as men to garner the success they want and deserve, with memorable performances by its two distinct leads that perfectly compliment each other.