In 2007, who worried about the stock market? Brokers were making money hand over fist and ancillary businesses, designed solely for the pleasure of these masters of the universe, flourished. Then, 2008 arrived and with it the second biggest Wall Street crash in history. But, the money men were not the only ones affected, so were the “Hustlers.”
Laura's Review: B
Dorothy is determined to get the woman who brought her up, her grandmother (Wai Ching Ho), out of debt and so heads where the money is in 2006, Manhattan's Moves strip club. Known there as Destiny (Constance Wu), the young woman fares poorly at first, gouged by club managers looking for their cut, not particularly adept at pole dancing. Then she sees Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) perform and is transported, the more experienced dancer mesmerizing, Moves' customers enveloping her in a cyclone of whirling cash. Ramona takes pity on the younger woman and suggests they work together to entice Wall St. clients into opening their wallets wider, but when things change dramatically after 2008, Destiny is alarmed at the increasing risks Ramona is willing to take, turning their tight-knit group into criminal "Hustlers."
Writer/director Lorene Scafaria has adapted Jessica Pressler's New York Magazine article with snap and verve, beginning with a deep dive into the world of a classy strip club where pole and lap dancers are showered with money by three tiers of Wall Streeters before turning into the true crime story which inspired it. But like the before and after economic realities of 2008, the movie is a lot more fun while things are on the upturn, the women’s manipulation of men feeding on greed something to cheer, their donning of sheep’s clothing to become wolves of Wall St. unsettling. Scafaria signals the switch with a visit to the club by rap star Usher, one last blast of happy hedonism before the boom is lowered.
JLo’s gotten a lot of buzz coming out of the Toronto International Film Festival and she’s better here than she’s been in some time, warm and maternal with her girls, including daughter Juliet (Emma Batiz) and her Hispanic housemaid, centerfold sexy with men in private rooms, some of whom she even likes. The intense training she did to master pole dancing is impressively evident as well. But her Ramona begins to act out of character in the film’s second act, terse with bestie Destiny when she tries to apply the brakes, her compassion nowhere in sight when an ordinary guy, Doug (Steven Boyer), becomes their latest mark, a change Scafaria provides little background for other than the temporary hardship of working in retail.
But the film’s primary character belongs to Wu, our eyes into the story, her 2013 interview with Elizabeth (Julia Stiles) the film’s somewhat unnecessary backbone, and what she sees is a clearly sanitized version of events where the worst that can happen at Moves is a boyfriend becoming overly possessive. After the glory days, Dorothy settles down with Johnny (Gerald Earl Gillum) and has a daughter, a surprising turn of events given the prior significance accorded him, but once she throws him out she finds herself unemployable in the real world. She returns to Moves to find it overtaken by Russian strippers willing to sell sexual services for less than the price of a 2006 lap dance. Then she runs into Ramona again and discovers she’s running a fishing game with old friends Mercedes (Keke Palmer) and Annabelle (Lili Reinhart). Destiny’s invited into the con, which involves one of them hooking a guy at a bar, then introducing her ‘sisters,’ slipping him a Mickey and taking him to Moves where his credit cards will be maxed out when he passes out. It’s a great game until Ramona decides to cut out the club, runs out of her regulars, and hires a second squad that includes junkies like Dawn (Madeline Brewer), leading them into unknown territory without a map.
While these women are all established as decent people trying to make homes, Mercedes dutifully awaiting her man’s release from prison, Annabelle becoming independent after being thrown out by her parents, it is a lot harder to root for them when they begin drugging men, not all of them the Wall Street sharks of earlier days, to steal from them. Some of these men’s lives are even endangered. Scafaria plugs in enough moments to keep them real, Ramona bonding with Dorothy’s grandmother at a Christmas party, ‘Destiny’ exposed to her neighbors and daughter’s school and, in a running gag, Annabelle vomiting at every moment of stress. Dorothy and Ramona are estranged after Dorothy takes a deal when their jig is up, Elizabeth’s role finally becoming necessary to engineer a reconciliation. Magically, Ramona has become her old self again.
Robin's Review: B
Dorothy (Constance Wu) cares for her aging grandmother but is having serious money problems. Desperate for cash, she takes a job in a local strip club but is a real fish out of water. One of the veteran pole dancers, Ramona (Jennifer Lopez), watches the novice struggle and decides to take Dorothy, now Destiny, under her wing.
One of the problems for the dancers is the graft and corruption in the clubs and the pay-offs they must shell out. Ramona and Destiny, both smart and ambitious, decide to go freelance and begin the lucrative business of bilking those well-to-do Wall Street honchos out of thousands. And, they are very good at their chosen career.
But, the market tanks and all of that money and all of those eager clients disappear, along with the clubs. Ramona, Destiny and their fellow dancers are forced to eek out a straight living – and they do not like it. Long estranged because of their circumstances, the two friends meet again and decide to go back into business again. The biz has changed dramatically, though, and the money bilked from clients, still easy to do, is now fraught with much more risk, like arrest and prison time.
This seemingly fictional tale is, we are told in the opening title, “inspired by a true story” and it is an interesting one. Writer-director Lorene Scafaria adapts Jessica Pressler’s 2015 New York magazine article, The Hustlers at Scores, and, on the surface, it appears to be a glam look at a potentially sordid business. This prompted me to read Pressler’s article.
While Jennifer Lopez’s involvement in this project is bound to inject a glamour quotient to “Hustlers,” the essence of the ladies’ story is brought out as we watch this alternate viewpoint of the Great Recession of 2008 – we usually see things from the POV of the brokers, not the workers who “service” their needs and desires.
The change in point of view of that time is a refreshing look at how some very creative entrepreneur ladies beat the system, at least for a while. Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Lili Reinhart and Keke Palmer exhibit the appropriate gorgeous looks and sexy girrrl power with these ladies dominating the screen. Men, in this world, are incidental and solely a means to an end for these ladies to take as much money from them as possible – and get away with it.