Movies

Review: Hustlers

Jennifer Lopez crushes it in a strip-club caper flick.

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Hustlers is about empowerment, sorta. A group of New York strippers decide to turn the tables on the men who exploit them—the skeezy club-owners, the slavering clients—and cut themselves in on some of the big money that's been passing them by. It's a girl-gang revenge movie.

But wait. Their "revenge" actually involves drugging and robbing men who for the most part have done nothing more than avail themselves of these women's services. After slipping the guys a brain-frazzling mixture of MDMA (to keep them happy about handing over their credit cards) and ketamine (to cloud any memory of having done so), they max out the marks' accounts to finance expeditions through the lush fields of Gucci, Louboutin and Louis Vuitton. One of their victims—who seems like a nice guy, really—is unable to make a mortgage payment after the girls empty him out and is left ruined. As one of the women tells one of these wiped-out men, "You had an epic night. It costs money." This being a based-on-a-true-story movie (drawn from a 2015 New York magazine article by Jessica Pressler), you hope that these ladies at least did a little jail time.

But wait. The guys they're taking down are Wall Street assholes—braying morons who think nothing of dropping ten or fifteen thousand dollars in a night at a high-end strip club. And part of the story is set around 2009, in the thick of a catastrophic economic collapse; it's the golden age of government bailouts, so the money these Wall Street yobbos are now throwing around has actually been extracted from taxpayers. As a dancer named Ramona (a fiery star turn by Jennifer Lopez) later asks, "Do you see what they did to this country? They stole from everybody. Hardworking people lost everything. And not one of these douchebags went to jail." Okay, screw these guys.

The movie's moral nuance is refreshing: None of these characters have God entirely on their side. The strippers do elicit sympathy—we see that a few of them have kids and grandmas to support, and it's tough. But even though the movie's director (Lorene Scafaria) and all of its main cast are women, this is not a feminist lecture (although it must be admitted there are no good guys in sight).

The story centers on a warm, mentoring friendship between a veteran dancer called Ramona (Lopez, whom we meet gorgeously contorting herself on a stripper pole) and a newbie called Destiny (Constance Wu, of Crazy Rich Asians). Circling these two are fellow dancers/co-conspirators Keke Palmer and Lili Reinhart (and, briefly, Cardi B and Lizzo).

First off, Scafaria, who also wrote the script, shows us what life is like for these strippers or dancers or whatever they're supposed to be (some of the women actually strip, but the leads don't). When they get paid (in cash) at the end of the night, various layers of management always take a bite. And when a girl leads a customer back to the "champagne room" for a lap dance, chances are he'll want sex, too – and then will likely cheat her after she acquiesces. The issue of age—of a woman's sell-by date in this business – is also addressed. Lopez, who doesn't look anywhere near her own age (50), subtly conveys Ramona's casual humiliation in a scene in which she and two younger women are in a private room partying with two men when one of them slips her some cash and tells her to leave: "We're not feeling it," he says.

When the economic downturn really hits, and strip clubs start feeling the squeeze, Ramona and her squad branch out into a more elaborate area of endeavor (which involves a few too many bar scenes). Along the way there are some nicely written interludes—especially the scene in which an old woman dreamily recalls the lone touched-by-greatness moment in her life: "I once danced with Frankie Valli," she says (a cue for the old Four Seasons hit "Rag Doll," a resonant novelty in a soundtrack that otherwise inclines more toward Remy Ma, Janet Jackson, Flo Rida, and Usher – who turns up in a club scene playing himself and tossing wads of cash in the air.)

The movie has two problems. One is the question of who we're supposed to root for. The men are creeps, but the women aren't exactly blameless either. Fortunately, the question becomes moot whenever Lopez is around, juicing every scene she's in.

The other problem is the movie's structural similarity to Goodfellas and The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese was at one point considering directing this film), which gives the picture a second-hand feeling as it plays out. And Scorsese's films presented their subjects—middle-aged gangsters and an out-of-control stock-market hotshot—as creatures of legend, of glorious times and grand actions. Bogus notions, maybe, but the New York strip-club scene can't quite carry that sort of myth-making weight. Nobody even gets shot.

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  1. Extracting money from sleazy, drug-addled rich Democrats?

    Everyone on the Democratic debate stage just got an erection, including the ladies.

    1. Cardi B did this for real. A film celebrating that is celebrating the idea that if the identity politics is in your favor, you can sink as low as you like. Hell, there’s nothing it won’t forgive in today’s “by any means necessary” cult.

  2. When I saw the trailer for this film, I honestly thought it was about women who were sick of being exploited so they went off and started a better strip club and took all these men to the cleaners. clearly that’s not the case.

    I find the author’s position weird that between Wall Street executive, who made his money through investing, and the strippers who drug, and rob them, he can’t come to a clear conclusion about who to root for. (spoiler) It should be the Wall Street executive and here’s why. Working on Wall Street dose not automatically make someone a criminal as this film and the author claim. Drugging and robbing people absolutely does make you a criminal you know since its against the law and whatnot.

    the author seems to believe that while the women’s behavior is not justified, it is at bare minimum worthy of empathy due to the sexist and classicist logic that these are wealthy men who work on Wall Street they deserve to be put to financial ruin for the crime of choosing to patronize the Establishment these women also freely choose to work at. If women in Hollywood want to be role models for girls and young women through women being in lead roles in film this doesn’t sound like a good place to start.

    1. “But it’s like empowerment! And strippers! And rich jerks getting their comeuppance! And strippers!”

      (This was probably how they put it in the pitch meeting)

      1. we’re girls. give us money for the movie or else.

    2. The movie is no more a source of good role models than “Goodfellas” or the “Godfather” films. And it’s no criticism of the role of Wall Street in our economic system to point out that some of the people who work there act like asses in bars and nightclubs.

      1. Should also point out — spoiler! — that the law catches up with these women at the end.

      2. KL

        You are correct that their is a double standard to the “anti-hero” trope in cinema when it comes to male and female characters. there are plenty of examples of stories in TV and film of the audience having to root for criminals ala Breaking Bad. The difference though is Bryan Cranston doesn’t come out and call the role “empowering” I was more or less pointing out the fact that the author is even remotely conflicted about who the bad guy in this story is.

        And you are correct that when you are rich and powerful the power can go to your head and some people who are not humble and tethered will act in unsavory ways. that dose not make it okay to retaliate against them in criminal ways

  3. “Drugging and robbing people absolutely does make you a criminal you know since its against the law and whatnot.”

    It is also not their job to judge guilt and mete out punishment. It is scattershot vigilantism as a rationalization for criminal behavior. This is revenge fantasies are fantasies .

    1. And even if we assume all the Wall St. people were thieves themselves – it’s not as if the strippers were secret operatives recovering stolen property and giving it back to the true owners. No, they’re taking money which whatever its origin, does not belong to them, and using the money for themselves.

      1. We steal from the rich and… sometimes get around to giving to the poor…

  4. Drugging people, and stealing their stuff while they sleep, is OK so long as you don’t cop a feel while doing it. That shit is just straight-up criminal.

  5. A similar thing happened to a newscaster here in Philly (John Bolaris), when he was vacationing in FL. Unfortunately for the people perpetrating that scam, he went to the FBI, and worked to bring them down.

    From ABC News

    1. She doesn’t go topless, but there are some shots of that magnificent ass of hers in a thong.

      1. Hit reply to the wrong comment.

        1. The Ruth Bader Ginsburg article is further back.

          1. *raucous laughter*

      2. She doesn’t go topless, but there are some shots of that magnificent ass of hers in a thong.

        Setting TiVO to STUN!

  6. No mention of whether J Lo is topless or not? Bad Kurt Loder.

  7. Yeh.

    Hard pass.

    1. “this is not a feminist lecture” means it’s pretty much gonna be a feminist lecture

  8. >>>MDMA … and ketamine

    make parties better they don’t assist robberies wtf

  9. Anyone of the pelt shown in the photo can drug and rob me, to be honest.
    One at a time, ladies (ok – two).

  10. You had me at “Jennifer Lopez”.

  11. First off, Scafaria, who also wrote the script, shows us what life is like for these strippers or dancers or whatever they’re supposed to be (some of the women actually strip, but the leads don’t). When they get paid (in cash) at the end of the night, various layers of management always take a bite. And when a girl leads a customer back to the “champagne room” for a lap dance, chances are he’ll want sex, too – and then will likely cheat her after she acquiesces.

    Clearly the writers have never heard of a service called “Twitch”.

    There are women on Twitch who make well over six figures who, by their own hot-mic moments admit “for doing nothing”.

  12. “Ramona and her squad”

    I see what you did there…

    1. Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww

      (pauses to catch breath)

      wwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww

  13. I really enjoy it when i read it. Actually I was Searching for Jennifer Lofez on Google. Thanks For Sharing This.

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