Entertaining and watchable, this drama might be dodging an important question…
BILLED very much as a female empowerment drama, it should be said that ‘Hustlers‘ has much to recommend it, though trying to defend the women at the heart of this hustle might be stretching it.
Jennifer Lopez is brilliant as ‘Ramona’ but the story is narrated by ‘Destiny’, Constance Wu, who is also very strong in her role. The film is based on an original magazine article and in the film Wu’s character narrates.
Ramona and Destiny become very good friends, with Ramona very much the maternal figure who takes Destiny under her wing.
From 2005, or theareabouts, Ramona and Destiny both enjoy their work – Ramona is something of a star at the club where they both perform.
It is a typical pole dancing set-up if we can say that, a top-end strip joint where girls will gyrate around a pole and then for an extra dollar or two come and dance for you, individually.
Most of the customers are bankers, traders and others who deal in the business of money. Dough is easy to make and come by – the girls know how to work their customers and extract a few hundred, even a few thousand, dollars from their clientele.
Ramona reads the men especially well and picks out and focuses on those with the biggest wallets – these are the CEOs and the like who come in through special entrances and everything is very discreet.
It’s a cosy world to a point – Ramona has a teenage daughter and is a single mum and when Destiny begins working, it is as a single person.
Director Lorena Scafaria keep things moving nicely through this first half – and you see the girls’ work from their perspective and she gives all the girls a certain degree of agency and individuality – they do this because they want to and it’s the money that talks to them in this regard.
Both parties see this as a financial transaction (a hustle) – nothing is given or taken emotionally – though both Ramona and Destiny single out men who dote and don’t ask a lot in return.
The second-half of the movie delivers the real meat of the tale. After 2008, and the crash, the men are not coming into the club, and those that do are spending a lot less.
Ramona and her gang are not earning as much – like anyone in this situation – they have to up their game and hustle harder.
So far, nothing much to concern yourself over – and Destiny who is recounting all this to a woman journalist says as much, but then the real money is somewhere else or through a manoeuvre which requires something else – namely drugs.
We don’t want to spoil your enjoyment – so we will leave this aspect – but this is where Destiny begins to question Ramona and her tactics.
Destiny leaves stripping to give birth and spend time with her husband. But it doesn’t really work out and Destiny finds herself going back to stripping.
At first, she does her own thing but the money she is making is not enough really to keep pace with the consumerist luxury lifestyle she craves.
There is a reunion with Ramona and the two enlist a couple of others into more heightened and risky hustle.
Some guys are royally (not literally) screwed by this little group – but Scafaria makes the point that a lot of these guys ‘screwed the country’ and have not paid for their misdemeanours.
Ramona sees nothing wrong in what they do – the men are fair game and so what if they max out the corporate credit card – and leave the men with a massive debt in just one evening? Many can afford it and many are getting kicks (as married men) they shouldn’t be, with girls like Ramona and Destiny.
The moral questions make this film perhaps much better stronger than it might look on paper, and both Lopez and Wu are compelling and part of the reason why you stay with the story when you might have lost interest with lesser acting.
It’s a good ride, entertaining, absorbing, intriguing and eminently watchable.
Yes, it’s about female empowerment – to a point, but the larger question about morality, both personal and financial, is somewhat fudged, and that might leave you a little unsatisfied.
However, if you want something with style and enough to keep you enthralled for a while, and enjoy seeing women like Lopez own that space in acting terms, this is it. There is Oscar talk about this film and yes both Wu and Lopez could be in the running.
ACV rating: *** (out of five)
Hustlers is on worldwide release from September 13
ACV saw ‘Hustlers’ at the Toronto International Film Festival 2019. Seen our videos of the red carpet? Interviews with the director and cinematographer and one of the cast… and Jennifer Lopez…