Hustlers is based in reality juuuust enough to keep true crime fans interested. Of course, that’s not the only reason to see the film, which is based on (as you surely know by now) Jessica Pressler’s New York magazine piece from 2016 entitled “The Hustlers at Scores.”
The names have all been changed in the yarn’s translation from page to screen, with the alleged ringleader of the scheme to drug men then run up their credit cards, Samantha Barbash, now named Ramona. She’s played by Jennifer Lopez, whose draw in the film transcends her remarkable body -- Lopez gives off such warmth and charisma in the role that you might wonder why Barbash claims that the portrayal defames her. (Now, the alleged theft of her life rights…well, that’s another matter.) It’s a virtuosic performance, one that glosses over any questions you might have about why so many women would follow her lead and engage in the risky scheme.
According to prosecutors (as well as Pressler’s report), Barbash’s lieutenant was Roselyn Keo, who in Hustlers goes by Destiny when she dances (her real name is revealed during a heartbreaking scene toward the end of the movie, watch for it). She’s played by Constance Wu with a nice mix of steeliness and vulnerability, and while she’s initially an acolyte of Ramona’s, she quickly becomes a strategist within the racket, in the film helping to refine the drug cocktail (as in reality, a mixture of ketamine and MDMA) to ensure the most pliable -- and, it’s suggested, least dead -- victims.
The process-y stuff is well-provided and slickly revealed, something that made me happy as a person who likes to understand how a swindle works but gets annoyed when things get overly scamsplained. Just as importantly, when the racket is revealed and the suspects face justice, the crimes are not framed as “scarlet vixens get what’s coming to them.”
Let’s face it, we’ve seen plenty of properties that do just that, pillorying women for working within the constraints of a society that denies them a traditional path to success. This movie isn’t one of those. Do I think that Ramona (and Barbash, if her colleagues are to be believed) fully believed her own arguments that their Wall Street-employed victims deserved to be fleeced as they were responsible for the Great Recession? No, but nor do I believe (for practical reasons and otherwise) that they pursued profit by victimizing the vulnerable. I don’t know that many of their victims can say the same.
In the end, Hustlers is a rich story about female friendship and loyalty, the kind of bonding and betrayal narrative we’ve seen regarding male criminals for decades, and likely why I’ve already heard it compared to films like Goodfellas. But unlike Goodfellas, this movie also takes on the challenges of single parenting, capitalism, and -- to a tremendous degree -- society’s overwhelming misogyny, and the undercurrent of rage it’s left in every woman.
This isn’t a movie a man could have made, I don’t think, and I’m left wondering if they will fully understand or enjoy it. Maybe they won’t! At this stage of 2019, I really don’t care. -- EB
Limetown star Jessica Biel thought the podcast her show adapts was a true-crime tale. The star of the Facebook Watch series is apparently confused by more than just vaccinations, as she told Entertainment Weekly that after listing to the scripted podcast, “I missed it, that the news cycle went so quickly, and we had so many crazy things that happened… And I was Googling and looking her up, looking up Limetown.” Saying that she was embarrassed that she’s somehow overlooked news reports on the story, she says she “called [executive producer] Michelle [Purple] and she said, ‘No, no. It’s not real.’ And I said, ‘It is real!'”
Well, the story of an American Public Radio podcaster who faces mysterious threats as she reports out (from the press release) “the mysterious disappearance of 326 people in a Tennessee neuroscience research community” isn’t real, so Biel can stop worrying that she overlooked the numerous headlines on the case. Less clear is how, even after Googling, she still believed that the story wasn’t fictional. As I’m not a big fan of scripted pods, I didn’t listen to its source material, but the conceit that only a single APR podcaster is on a 326-victim case might be enough for to watch one episode for laughs. -- EB
An upcoming movie on the Lisa Marie Nowak case leaves out its most compelling element: its diapers. I didn’t even realize when I saw the trailer for Lucy In The Sky that it is supposedly an adaptation of Nowak’s case -- the famous tale of the astronaut who allegedly drove cross country to confront a romantic rival, while wearing a diaper to presumably minimize stops.*
Speaking to the LA Times, director Noah Hawley said that the diaper detail “just didn’t fit into the story,” even though -- let’s be honest -- it’s really the only element of the story anyone remembers, if they remember it at all. Since the film’s diaperless revelation, some have argued that as Nowak has since disputed the diaper element herself, maybe it makes sense that it didn’t make the movies. Let’s take a look at the facts.
According to ABC News, the first mention of Nowak’s alleged adult diaper use was made by Orlando Detective William Becton, who wrote in a charging affidavit that he discovered two used adult diapers in Nowak’s vehicle. “I then asked Mrs. Nowak why she had the baby diapers,” Becton wrote. “Mrs. Nowak said that she did not want to stop and use the restroom, so, she used the diapers to collect her urine.”
However, Becton neither photographed or collected the alleged used diapers, nor did he secure the "twenty to thirty unused diapers" he said he found in Nowak’s car trunk. In a motion to suppress filed in 2007, Nowak’s attorney said that “the biggest lie in this preposterous tale that has been told is that my client drove from Houston, Texas, to Orlando, Florida, nonstop, wearing a diaper,” the AP reported at the time. In an appearance in front of a naval review board in 2010, Nowak said that the diapers found in her car were from an evacuation drill during Hurricane Rita, which prompted the evacuation of Houston in 2005.
In Out There: The In-Depth Story of the Astronaut Love Triangle Case that Shocked America, author Diane Fanning says that Becton said that when he questioned Nowak, he was intimidated by Nowak’s wits, and said “I realized I was dealing with someone who was more intelligent that I was, and more educated.” One could certainly create the argument that a way to cut a smarty-pants lady down to size would be to claim that she’d been sitting in her own filth for a while! But that’s just speculation. We might not ever know if Nowak took a squishy trip across state lines, but we can rest secure in the knowledge that we won’t have to contemplate a diaper-clad Natalie Portman. -- EB
We won’t get to enjoy (?) Lifetime’s College Admissions Scandal until October 12, but a new report suggests that if UCLA had been smarter, the story would never have made it to the TV-movie stage. According to the LA Times, a UCLA compliance investigation from 2014 (you can read it in full here) had evidence that Rick Singer was running the same scam that brought down his operation five years later.
Despite that, the school continued to work with Singer, allowing him to broker admissions for additional students of dubious abilities and -- I love this detail -- allowing his organization to hold a four-day workshops at the school “to help students become social media influencers.” “It isn’t just what you know,” ads for the recurring event, which was held as recently as last August, read. “It’s who you know and knows you that will make things happen.” -- EB
Friday on Best Evidence: Will you be watching Unbelievable?
What is this thing? This should help.