Women in the Lead Could Make the Dirty Rotten Scoundrels Remake The Hustle Not Offensive
A remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels sounds insane considering the change in comedy and culture from the eighties to today, but it’s happening with Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson in The Hustle.
The landscape of filmmaking has been changing since the invention of film, with movies adapting to their modern audiences sensibilities and the shifting culture around them. We’ve seen, in the last five years, a dramatic shift to what people are calling “PC culture” or catering to the “Millennial Snowflake” audience. Whether you agree with the move or not, the dynamic of the movie-making world is changing to be a more inclusive place; this does not mean it will be less funny or lack any depiction of real problems, it simply seems to mean the films will be more thoughtful and led by a diverse cast.
Even with the apparent positive shift of the landscape, there are some inescapable pitfalls that will come with the change. As a standup comedian myself, the change in comedy has been palpable (not bad but noticeable). Audiences now are often not keen to traverse as dark of territory if not finessed in the right way, which is to say coming at the topic in a unique and funny way.
All of this led me to a surprise when I saw that The Hustle, being released by MGM on May 10, 2019, is a remake of the 1988 film Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
Can the Modern PC Culture Handle a Dirty Rotten Scoundrels Remake?
The eighties were a much different time where a lot less politically correct jokes made it to the screen to be met with thunderous laughter and critical acclaim. It is true we live in a time where reboots and remakes of movies are very common (looking at you Disney), but there are some films that are hard to imagine retaining their comedic value when remade for a modern audience.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels stars comedic giant Steve Martin and respectable classic Michael Caine as two battling con artists operating in the same area of southern France. The two eventually challenge each other to see who can con $50,000 from a selected “mark” first, then shifting the bet to see if Martin can bed the woman.
The film is a classic comedy, however the sensibilities of the eighties leave their mark all over it. That is to say that it is not exactly a politically correct film.
There are a few moments in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels that make me wonder how The Hustle will translate to a modern audience, with the looming threat of being “cancelled” on Twitter ever present. For example, the first half of the film sees Martin’s character working cons with Caine’s character by pretending to be his mentally handicapped brother Ruprecht. At the time, this was I’m sure a hilarious part of this movie, allowing Martin to act free and silly as he does so often, but watching it through a modern lens is a bit rough.
The idea of impersonating a handicapped person is not one that holds up well against the current age. Now with The Hustle being a remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, it is hard to imagine director Chris Addison’s take on this without it being as offensive as it was in the eighties; it’s not exactly an issue that you can finesse into being accepted. It doesn’t help that The Hustle screenwriter Jac Schaeffer is using in one form or another the original Dirty Rotten Scoundrels script for the remake – original screenwriters Stanley Shapiro, Paul Henning, and Dale Launer each have writing and story credits.
The issues do not end with Ruprecht. Later in the film, Martin poses as a Navy veteran bound to a wheelchair with severe PTSD in an attempt to con a woman out of $50,000, a hi-jinx that involves a fake doctor as well. Another joke that if released today, would see to an uprising on the internet the likes of which we seem to see every single day.
So what is MGM doing? Why did they greenlight a project that was raunchy in the eighties for release in what is being considered the most sensitive audience era ever? I think the secret is in the gender swapping of the lead roles. Yes, this Dirty Rotten Scoundrels reboot is not a direct remake, but more a reimagining of the film with two women in the lead, Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson.
The Hustle, a Female-Led Dirty Rotten Scoundrels Remake, Could Change Everything
This is where I think MGM is doing things right. By changing the gender of the lead roles they effectively change the perception and direction of the movie, allowing them to rewrite distasteful jokes and not have to be slaves to the idea of direct adaptation, rather selling this as a reimagining of a classic movie. This allows for purist fans of the original Dirty Rotten Scoundrels a chance to enjoy a new take on the film, and for new fans to enjoy a film made for the modern era.
Not only that, but the inclusivity of a film with a female lead cast lends itself to a more interesting story generally. We have seen a rise in representation in film and with that more patrons are going to the theaters excited to see a movie that is even tangentially reminiscent of their lives. Not to say Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is not a great movie with its two leading men, but as Jordan Peele recently said of films led by white men, we’ve seen that movie.
So how can MGM possibly remake Dirty Rotten Scoundrels without being offensive? By making The Hustle a reboot with a life all of its own.