Movie Review: ‘Hustlers’

Director: Lorene Scafaria

Cast: Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer, Madeline Brewer

Plot: The based-on-true-story tale of a group of strippers who begin drugging and robbing men, hiding under the knowledge that men are unlikely to come forward, and even if they did they wouldn’t be believed.

Review: As we all know, Hollywood as a long standing reputation of depicting sex workers in a fair and respectful manner, addressing the real issues encountered in the industry. Not simply focusing on the male gaze and selling the idea that all workers are abuse victims who only you can rescue. It’s not like Hollywood itself has grown from a swamp of abuse and exploitation of ambitious stars or anything.

No, wait, sorry…got that all backwards. In reality the media are quite like the male victims depicted in this film…more than willing to play along and gawk at the performers, but equally quick to condemn them if questioned.

So let’s see how Hustlers does. Based on a well distributed feature exploring the crime spree embarked on by a group of strippers who worked in the heart of New York. Being alongside Wall Street they attract the wealthy workers of the district. Destiny (Wu) is a new worker who is taken under the wing of veteran performer Ramona (Lopez), and before long she learns how to entice clients and encourage them to open their wallets. This part of the movie is the most interesting, as the characters are portrayed as shift workers on commission, sometimes having a bad week, sometimes doing well, and working in an industry where the attached stigma can attract problems both in and out of the workplace.

When the 2008 recession hits the Wall Street clients fade away and the work becomes more distasteful. Destiny has just returned to performing after having a child and being unable to find other work due to lack of experience, but quickly learns that things have taken a turn for the worse. When she crosses paths with Ramona once more she gets drawn into a new scheme. Romana and her friends have been head-hunting rich men in bars, getting them drunk, luring them into the club and racking up high bills. Anyone who complains simply gets told that they were off their face and throwing money around.

Things escalate when they decide to make life easier and start slipping a mix of ketamine and MDMA into their drinks and helping themselves to whatever they had. This, along with new crew members, sees big money coming in and before long greed takes hold and they turn it into a business.

Whilst this should be the more interesting part of the movie, it feels very by the numbers. The focus shifts onto the relationship between the characters, but none of them are especially fleshed out and the old ‘we’re a family’ plot thread feels tired. Putting the focus of the script on this aspect of the story lends it to feel like a by-the-numbers crime drama. On paper the story of thieving strippers is enticing, but the script they wound up with feels very generic. There’s some interesting stylistic choices, such as a clever twist on the idea of diegetic audio, but they’re all isolated moments that stand out because they don’t fit the rest of the routine approach the rest of the film takes.

For an original, true life story it’s remarkable how forgettable this it. There’s the beginning of an interesting story, but apparently they didn’t want to tell that story. Instead they focused on putting Cardi B. and Lizzo on the poster for 10 second long cameos.

Rating: FOUR out of TEN