The feminist Robin Hood tale, faithfully adapted from Jessica Pressler’s The Hustlers at Scores puts empowering female friendship at its heart.
Starring Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Lizzo and Cardi B
This is a story about control. My control.Janet Jackson
This is the song that opens Hustlers and it perfectly outlines the themes that are to be explored in its 110-minute run time. A group of strippers band together to cheat high-powered Wall Street business men out of their money through drugging them and abusing their credit cards. It’s a delectably seductive feminist Robin Hood tale.
Jessica Lopez‘s Ramona purrs, “This whole country’s a strip club. You’re either the ones throwing the money, or dancing for it.” Throughout the entire film, her performance is electrically magnetic. Within any scene, she draws the eye and captures your attention; seducing down the camera lens. Constance Wu‘s ingenue Destiny is similarly captivated by lioness Ramona, watching on as she enthrals the strip club as she dances a provocative pole routine. Sitting on the roof, wrapped in an elegant fur and smoking, Lopez is a majestic sight, as she takes Destiny under her wing to teach her the ways of the strip club. By this point in the film, we have already seen Destiny degraded by the clientele of the strip club, calling her “Lucy Liu” and asking her “What did daddy do to you?”. At no point does this film attempt to redeem these Wall Street men, but rather the focus is placed upon the background scenery of many boys’ films. Instead of being props as mobsters and corrupt politicians make illicit deals, these women are suddenly given a voice and agency.
This is something that Ramona, and Cardi B‘s Diamond make clear early on. “Drain the clock, not the cock” Diamond insists, indicating that as much as the men who attend Moves believe, the power is firmly within the dancers’ hands. Ramona elaborates upon this, indicating the many ways that she manipulates men into gaining money. This is the business upon which Destiny too gets involved, learning the ways of the trade from Ramona and soon they are living their materialistic haven, playing the game to their own advantage to avoid paying so much across to their bosses.
In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, both Destiny and Ramona face setbacks. Suddenly, fewer Wall Street men are appearing at Moves, and Destiny finds herself pregnant and stops being a dancer there. This leads to Ramona adopting “fishing” techniques, which involve seducing men to attend the club in exchange for some of their spending there. She involves Annabelle (Lili Reinhart) and Mercedes (Kiki Palmer) in this endeavour, devising a cunning plan that involves getting the men drunk and spiriting them away to the club, then encouraging them to spend as much as possible to line their own pockets. Ultimately, however, they discover that this plan simply isn’t reliable enough, as many men start cottoning on to their intentions. With Destiny back in the group, they devise a new amendment to the plan in that they drug the men with a homemade mixture of MDMA and ketamine, such that the men are unable to resist the strip club. When they get there, the men pass out and subsequently the women are able to max out their credit cards and take the profit. When they realise the loss of their money, the men are unable to report it as they are too embarrassed by the turn of events.
What is particularly noticeable about this film is the way in which it celebrates the women at its core. Writer-director Lorene Scafaria is very clear in her intent. At no point are the women judged either for their profession or indeed for their actions towards the Wall Street men. Indeed, part of Ramona’s justification is that their own actions are proportional to the stealing that the Wall Street big wigs did to everybody else that caused the financial crisis in the first place. “The game is rigged, and it doesn’t reward people who play by the rules,” she attests. The criticism is thoroughly upon the system that they are found in. These women are unable to do anything else to gain money through legitimate means and are bound by circumstance. Instead, these women are celebrated for their innovative and creative ideas.
Furthermore, the focus is upon the relationships that the women form with each other and the importance of this sisterhood. Without this bond, especially the central connection between Destiny and Ramona, the film would not succeed as well as it does.
Ultimately, this is a delightfully entertaining movie, that puts female friendship and empowerment at the centre and is magnetically held together by the incomparable Jennifer Lopez in what may be a career-best performance.