Yesterday, MGM released a trailer for The Hustle starring Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson. It’s a remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and the trailer looks smart and entertaining. Rebel is coming hot off Isn’t It Romantic, opening today. While the movie itself has received lukewarm critical reviews, many agree that Rebel holds her own as the romantic lead, and that she and her usual charm are what work for the film. Anne Hathaway has also played a similar role recently in Ocean’s Eight. I’m looking forward to more of this with an added Julie Andrews-esque “posh” accent. From the trailer, the pair seem to have a solid chemistry. Based on a classic story, with this pair on board, AND Jac Schaeffer (co-screenwriter on Captain Marvel), The Hustle has a lot of potential.
I first watched Dirty Rotten Scoundrels live on stage in Vancouver in 2009 and fell in love with the story. Scammers are having a moment right now. The 1988 Dirty Rotten Scoundrels starred Steve Martin and Michael Caine. The movie is about a refined con artist named Lawrence working in the French Riviera, scamming rich women who visit the area on holiday. He meets a classless, American petty conman named Freddy, who he first takes under his wing, but they end up as competitors. Both men try to scam a naïve, wealthy American heiress for $50,000.
That version of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was itself a remake of a 1964 film called Bedtime Story starring Marlon Brando and David Niven. The story, and even the characters, were largely the same except for a few plot points. Of course, the two movies reflect their separate times in costume and in references, but the endings are changed as well. *SPOILERS* (Can you spoil a 30 year old and 50 year old movie?) When the con artists realise that the woman they have chosen is a contest winner who isn’t really wealthy, they decide to make her the prize instead (misogyny anyone?). In the first film, the American conman succeeds in seducing her, but then ends up falling in love with her and going straight. That resolution is a little boring, rather sexist, but a product of its time. The 1988 version takes a different approach. While both men once again decide on making the woman the prize, they ultimately end up being scammed themselves, when the woman steals their money and the American’s clothes. Here, the misogyny is subverted, and the woman regains some agency right at the end of the film.
Just like the other remakes of this story, The Hustle is once again a product of its time and continues to reinterpret the plot of the original. In this movie, the target is a wealthy tech millionaire (who I think looks a little like Mark Zuckerberg) and the con artists are women who take advantage of men, not solely out of malice or greed, but because “no man will ever believe a woman is smarter than him.” This is Anne Hathaway’s quote from the trailer, and it succinctly summarizes the message that I hope will be found throughout the film: a criticism of men who underestimate and belittle women.
In the previous films from The Hustle’s lineage, the con artists were sh-tty men, who were portrayed to be charming and funny. There’s a slightly uncomfortable undertone from the fact that these men use their existing power and privilege to take advantage of women. I still think the story is entertaining, but I’m excited to watch the reverse: a story where those who don’t benefit from that power dynamic take advantage of those who do.