Starring Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu, Hustlers gives the audience an inside look at highs and lows of the adult entertainment industry. Set in the early 2000s, the film tells the story of Destiny (Wu), an up and coming stripper who is taken under her wing by Ramona (Lopez), an older stripper with a knack for landing high-end clients. Together, the two women soon find themselves earning thousands of dollars a night until the global financial crisis of 2008 hits suddenly. Hitting every industry hard (even the adult entertainment business), the changes force the women to rethink their strategy to earn high-end money. For fear of losing the lifestyle to which they have grown accustomed, they and their friends band together to turn the tables on their Wall Street clients.
Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria, Hustlers is inspired by a New York Magazine article by Jessica Pressler that went viral. (In fact, the narrative of the film is framed through flashback as reporter Elizabeth [Julia Styles] is trying to get ‘the facts’ of what really happened.) Shot with energy and fun, the film mostly maintains a playful tone throughout, even in its more serious moments. As the lead women of the team, Lopez and Wu have genuine chemistry as their relationship balances between a battle for leadership and the joy of sisterhood. Though all the cast are clearly enjoying themselves, it’s Lopez who knows how to handle comedic material. As the troupe leader, Lopez laughs and dances her way through the film with her signature charm, even in moments when the script is lacking. This is a film that wants the audience to enjoy the show, with all its glitz and glitter, while celebrating the strength and sisterhood of women. (The film even ends with the lead cast members dancing together onscreen ‘one more time’.)
Through the use of satire, Hustlers examines sexual exploitation from a decidedly unique perspective. Rather than focus on the abuse of power at the hands of men, Hustlers is interested in exploring what happens when that power is taken back by confident women. Working in an industry built upon the male gaze, these women are determined to reclaim their sexuality into a position of dominance. (“This is a story about control,” the film’s opening voiceover proclaims.) For Ramona and her crew, there is strength in sexuality that allows them freedom from control. As a result, there is a feeling of empowerment within the film, despite their spiral into criminal activity.
Having said this, it’s also interesting that the film chooses not to judge the characters for their actions either. Despite the fact that Ramona, Destiny and her team are drugging and robbing men nightly, their justification is that their marks likely had it coming. (“I don’t judge you,” says Elizabeth “because they probably deserved it.”) Right and wrong become blurred as the women’s decisions become more and more unsafe so that they can protect their way of life. As a result, the women come to view themselves as heroes of their own stories, even as their actions become more villainous.
Despite a script that misses its potential at times, Hustlers achieves its goals. While Scafaria wants to engage her audience visually, it’s Lopez’s charm and Wu’s unwavering poise that help give the film the confidence it needs to entertain. Despite its flaws, Hustlers knows what it wants to be and invites its audience to sit back enjoy the ride.
Hustlers dances into theatres on September 13th, 2019