September 9, 2019

SHOWBUZZDAILY Toronto Film Festival Reviews: “Hustlers” & “Endings, Beginnings”


HUSTLERS (STX – September 13):  Lorena Scafaria becomes the latest filmmaker failing to ascend Martin Scorsese Mountain.  Her Hustlers wants to be Goodfellas in its marrow, not only in its based-on-a-true-story tale of New York criminals who ride high and then go down, but in its structure of interspersing dispassionate after-the-fact narration with the high-wire events as they happen, and even in sequences like the one detailing how high-roller customers enter an establishment through the VIP back-door entrance and hallways.  But apart from the fact that no one but Scorsese is peak Scorsese (even non-peak Scorsese), Scafaria wants her tale to include female empowerment as well as crime and punishment, and the sentimentality she injects into the story bogs it down.  Her criminals are a group of strippers who decide to maximize their financial return by drugging patrons and soaking their credit cards for all they’ll bear, and that’s a fun saga for a while but not a particularly memorable one, especially because the crimes, being relatively low-stakes, carry little sense of real danger.  Scafaria also made the questionable decision to focus the story on Destiny (Constance Wu), a newcomer stripper when we meet her who commits her crimes largely to support her family, rather than Ramona (Jennifer Lopez, in a true star performance), a bigger-scale character who’s far more interesting.  The rest of the cast assembles a group that seems fascinating on paper–Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Cardi B, Lizzo–but have roles with little substance.  (Literally the only thing of note that we learn about Reinhart’s character is that when she’s under stress, she vomits conpulsively.) Hustlers is moderately entertaining in the way of a TV docudrama, but it misses its opportunities to create something original.

ENDINGS, BEGINNINGS (no US distributor):  To the extent that film festivals can be said to have personalities, Drake Doremus’s Endings, Beginnings feels much more Sundance than Toronto with its improvised dialogue (although Doremus and Jarine Libaire share a screenwriting credit for the narrative) and hand-held “indie” aesthetic, as well as its story about the romantic and existential problems of a twentysomething female protagonist.  When we meet Daphne (Shailene Woodley), she’s recently suffered a trauma, which is revealed to us in the usual fragmentary form over the course of the story, although the nature of the trauma is so familiar that many may guess it almost immediately.  She’s at a loss without a job or a plan, living in her sister’s pool house, and has decided to skip alcohol and men for a while.  This of course doesn’t last long, as she quickly meets two men, who are close friends (although she doesn’t immediately know that), but so clearly contrasting that they’re basically rom-com tropes:  the romantically accented Jack (Jamie Dornan), a gentle and studious soul, and Frank (Sebastian Stan), a faster-talking and more dangerous guy with whom she has great sex.  This being 2019, the focus is less on which man Daphne will choose than how the whole situation will leave her feeling about herself, and when a complication enters the picture, it’s exactly the one you’d expect.  Woodley is incapable of emotional dishonesty, although after Big Little Lies and this, she needs to do less pensively staring out into the distance, and both Dornan and Stan are effectively seductive in their different ways.  The supporting cast includes small roles for Wendie Malick, Kyra Sedgwick and Lindsay Sloane.  Endings, Beginnings has its heart in the right place, but the improvised dialogue is more fulfilling for the actors than the viewer, and at 110 minutes the film wears out its welcome.  Doremus has been making the film festival rounds for a decade, and Endings, Beginnings isn’t really an advance from his Like Crazy, which used similar techniques to tell the story of another troubled romance (and in under 90 minutes).  He may want to consider taking his own current film title to heart.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."