Director: Jeremiah Zagar
Screenwriters: Taylor Materne and Will Fetters
Starring: Adam Sandler, Juancho Hernangómez, Queen Latifah, Ben Foster, Jordan Hull, Robert Duvall, and Anthony “Ant-man” Edwards
Cinematographer: Zak Mulligan
How & when to watch: Netflix – Wednesday, June 8, 2022
In a 2019 interview on The Howard Stern Show, Adam Sandler joked that if he did not take home the Oscar for Best Actor at the 2020 Academy Awards for his performance in Uncut Gems, he would purposefully make a movie so bad to make us all pay. One might be able to guess what that movie was, but thankfully, it isn’t Hustle.
The story follows Stanley Sugerman (Adam Sandler) as he endures the taxing demands of being the talent scout for the Philadelphia 76ers. His constant travel searching for the next big NBA star has not only taken a toll on his health, but it has also pulled Stan away from his adoring wife Teresa (Queen Latifah) and teenage daughter Alex (Jordan Hull), who aspires to be a filmmaker.
Stan begins to feel like all hope is lost until the 76ers owner Rex (Robert Duvall) finally promotes him to Assistant Coach. But when tragedy strikes, he’s left to deal with Rex’s know-it-all son Vince (Ben Foster), who demands his way or the highway. Now with his back against the wall, Stan travels the world in hopes of finding the next best NBA player. Luckily for him, the talented Bo Cruz (Juancho Hernangómez) comes in sight at a street game in Spain.
Throughout this heartwarming and at times clichéd Netflix sports journey lies a story about human connection, perseverance, and chasing dreams. And along this ride, Will Fetters and Taylor Materne’s script gives its audience plenty of reasons to fall in love with the two leads. Juancho’s Bo Cruz is the sensitive street basketball player whose talent, when refined, can take the league by storm. However, ignoring the burdens of his shadowy past may be a bigger challenge than basketball itself.
Sandler’s Stanley Sugerman, on the other hand, trusts his instinct and knows, for certain, that Cruz is the next big star. Convincing the rest of the world of this certainty is a mission Stan’s willing to take on by any means necessary. The passion that Adam Sandler has for basketball seeped into his character and out of the screen. It certainly poured right into my heart. Together, Sandler and Hernangómez put on performances that are capable of drawing audiences in from the moment of their first interaction. Their chemistry is dynamic as they perform opposite each other on screen and in personality.
There may not be any surprises for audiences by the film’s end, but Jeremiah Zagar’s direction to highlight the physical demands of basketball showcase a side of sportsmanship and masculinity that demands to be celebrated. But the exciting part about this is that the female characters do not take a back seat to a clear commemoration of machismo in basketball. Instead, every woman in this film has their own purpose: Teresa (Queen Latifah)– to knock Stan back down to Earth when his excitement takes him beyond reality, Alex (Jordan Hull)– to pursue her filmmaking dreams while rebuilding a relationship with her father. Then there’s Katherine (Heidi Gardner). I won’t dare spoil her placement in this film, but just know her stand-out moment is cheer-worthy.
The entirety of Hustle is, to be fair. In a film dominated by the presence and athleticism of men, women are there to ground the story and have moments to shine of their own. The two leads make the story an easy one to experience despite having some familiar tropes in sports film history. Additionally, Zagar’s ability to capture the essence and beauty of “the city of brotherly love” was a pleasant surprise. And through his creative direction, Zagar made a film as exhilarating as basketball itself. Though contrived sequences and interactions threaten to disrupt the quality of the film, especially since they appear abruptly, the overall enjoyment will not be lost as the ending is satisfying enough to overcome the abrupt time jump.
Jeremiah Zagar’s star-studded and refreshing sports dramedy Hustle isn’t perfect [and it didn’t need to be], but it’s the kind of Netflix film that we’ve all been waiting for. Whether you’re a devoted basketball fan who watches every game or a casual who catches one sporadically, this film is for everyone. It celebrates the sport through detailed landscape, powerful workout segments, and characters who ooze passion and dedication. Yet, it doesn’t let up on reminding us of the human element of sport dramas. Simply put, this is the feel-good movie of the summer.
Check out the trailer for Hustle starring Adam Sandler – on Netflix now!