‘Hustlers’: Film Summary and Review
Typically, the male hero saves or rescues the distressed female in classic tales, but the movie Hustlers undoes that construct in a story about women who decide that they would save themselves at the expense of men.
Based on Jessica Pressler’s New York magazine article, Hustlers portrays Jennifer Lopez (Ramona); Constance Wu (Destiny); Keke Palmer (Mercedes); and Lili Reinhart (Annabelle) as the real-life strippers who seduced, drugged and fleeced their Wall Street customers.
Although the action unfolds in 2007, we meet Destiny in 2014 while she is being interviewed by Julia Stiles (Elizabeth) who plays Pressler. According to Dorothy, whose stage name is Destiny, it’s “a story about control,” whose point is reinforced with Janet Jackson’s song Control blaring throughout the first scenes.
The story centers around a Manhattan strip club called Moves, where Wall Street players meet pole-dancing players. Both groups seek power and money above all else, so their interactions made for exciting trysts filled with lust and greed. Guest appearances by the chart-topping rapper and former stripper Cardi B (Diamond), R&B crooner Usher Raymond (himself); and Lizzo (Liz), increased the film’s appeal.
Writer and director Lorene Scafaria makes her stance plain that the wealthy Wall Street men had it coming based on their own unscrupulous tactics that led to the country’s financial crisis in 2008. Even as Ramona described the type of men that Destiny would serve, she made a point of explaining that these men cheated both at work and home. She wanted her new mentee, Destiny, to have no guilt in scamming the men. She methodically laid out the three levels of clients starting from low-level brokers, who are easily manipulated, to the highest level and least moral CFOs and the like, who spent no less than $15,000 per visit.
Convinced that the whole world is corrupt, Ramona compared the country to a strip club where there are the performers and the payees. “This whole country is a strip club,” she explains. “You got people tossing the money and people doing the dance.” Cunning and commanding, Ramona knew her role and had no problem demanding or even taking payment.
After splitting her first night’s pay with the club’s security, the DJ, and the house mom, Destiny quickly learned that the glamorous, big money allure of dancing is actually just the opposite for the inexperienced. She learned quickly from Ramona that being a dancer requires business savvy, as well as physical sensuality. After watching Destiny get pole-dancing tips from Ramona, Diamond demonstrated and clarified, “Drain the clock, not the cock,” explaining that time, not just tantalizing the men, equals money.
Once the stock market crashed in 2008, the club lost its high-paying clientele, and Destiny moved away with her boyfriend. They later have a daughter, but once the relationships ends, she is left to find work as a single mother. After being turned down for entry-level jobs in retail and so forth, she moved back with her grandmother in Queens and returned to the one place where she knew she could get a job: the strip club.
There she is reunited with Ramona, who comes up with a way for she and the others to make money like pre-2008. The crew spiked the men’s drinks with a blend of MDMA and ketamine, so the drugged men would hand over their credit cards and other personal info. The women run up the credit cards to no less than $5,000 and max them out at times.
One mark, Doug, who was hit hard by the financial crises, losing his job and wife but having to care for their special needs son, decides to contact the police after Romana wouldn’t give his money back. Destiny doesn’t like Ramona’s lack of sensitivity to Doug and starts questioning Ramona’s decision-making and ultimately their friendship. This scene is the only time that Scafaria interjects any remorse from any of the women. Initially, not even the police officers investigating the claim felt sympathy for Doug or the few others that came forth.
The movie’s focus on us (rich) against them (poor) made the women’s criminality seemed justified, for they were taking from the takers. Their camaraderie during the heists and even the holidays added another layer of appeal for those who question whether women are loyal leaders.
The parts of the movie that seem overlooked or trivialized is the actual sexual encounters with the men. We never learn how far the ladies went or were willing to go to scam the men. At one point, we see the discomfort with Annabelle as one mark gropes her, and we then see the “sisters,” as they called themselves, walk through the door to her rescue. This kind of glossing over of the exchange of sexual fantasy for money was often reduced to voice-overs describing the men’s actions but never the women’s actions beyond their fear when the men appeared overdosed or their jubilation when they got a big pay day.
Overall, it’s a film that reinforces feminist ideals, such as women celebrating their sexuality and working together for economic liberation. Meanwhile, it also has empowering themes that will resonate with people in general who feel they have lost or are losing in capitalism. It seems there is always a way to win in America, and hustling the hustlers is one way.