Hustlers is ‘inspired by a true story’ and is based on a New York Magazine article written by Jessica Pressler in 2015 titled “The Hustlers at Scores”. The tagline for that article was “Here’s a modern Robin Hood story for you: a few strippers who stole from (mostly) rich, (usually) disgusting, (in their minds) pathetic men and gave to, well, themselves” – something which pretty much sums up the entire plot of the movie. You’d be forgiven for thinking you’d seen this kind of thing a hundred times before, and to be honest the trailer didn’t really do it any justice either in my opinion. But, turns out that Hustlers is actually a pretty slick and hugely entertaining piece of fun, something that I wasn’t expecting to like anywhere near as much as I did.
We’re in 2007 and Destiny (Constance Wu) is working nights at a Manhattan strip club called Moves. Caring for her grandmother and catching up on sleep by day, it soon becomes clear that life as a stripper isn’t quite as glamorous as she’d imagined it to be. With a large number of girls working at the club, competition is strong, as are the internal politics, and the clients frequenting the club are just as disgusting as you’d imagine rich drunken assholes to be. And, at the end of a shift, the money that Destiny earns is subjected to numerous deductions and penalties from the manager and doorman as they all take their cuts, leaving Destiny with not very much at all.
And then one night, as the DJ introduces her, “The one, the only, Ramona!” (Jennifer Lopez) hits the stage to show everyone how it’s all done, highlighting to Destiny the kind of money she could be making if she upped her game. Dominating the main stage, Ramona masterfully works the pole as she slinks around in time to the music. And it clearly works too – dollar bills shower her, and cover the stage, while the stunned onlookers lose their minds and overreact like something out of a Tex Avery cartoon.
Destiny follows Ramona up onto the roof, where she’s taking time out for a smoke break and it’s not long before Ramona decides to take Destiny under her wing. Along with showing her the more dexterously impressive moves on stage, she also reveals the three levels of client who visit the club and how to best work them to your advantage. They become good friends, working together to earn more than either of them have before. But then, during 2008, the recession hits and the club no longer benefits from the wild spending habits of Wall Street’s biggest earners. Destiny becomes pregnant, leaving the club along with most of the other girls, but struggles to re-enter the workforce a few years later having had no real experience outside of a strip club. And then she meets up with Ramona once more, and learns about fishing…
Fishing involves the girls leaving the confines and constraints of the club in order to lure guys in from outside. Working as a group, they lace their drinks in bars (enough to make them happy, but not really conscious enough to fully appreciate or remember what happens for the rest of the night), then bringing them back to the club. There they can freely swipe their credit cards, have a great time and make thousands of dollars per night. As Ramona sells it to Destiny and the other girls they’ve recruited to help them, this isn’t just survival, it’s revenge against all of the Wall Street workers behind the recession, who had no comeback for their actions.
Occasionally the movies flashes forward a few years, where Destiny is being interviewed by the reporter who will eventually go on to write the article on their story (played by Julia Stiles). These scenes work well as a narrative device for the movie and it’s clear that, while Destiny seems to have fared pretty well financially over the years, whatever she’s done to get there has all gone horribly wrong at some point.
But for now, their scam works perfectly. After the lows and struggles of life as a lowly stripper, it’s a real thrill to follow these girls on their journey to expensive clothes, big flashy cars and penthouse apartments. They all become like family, even enjoying an expensive Christmas together with their real families joining them. Hustlers moves beyond its humble strip club beginnings and the camaraderie and power these women develop together feels so genuine, it really makes this movie shine. Scenes where the girls go shopping, or even work together in the kitchen to perfect their drug recipe, are a lot of fun and Hustlers features just as much humour as it does drama. Much of what makes this all work so well is down to it’s cast. Hustlers features some pretty strong support, but it’s the pairing of Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez that really stands out. Both are on top form, better than anything I’ve seen them in before and many reviews I’ve read are already recommending Oscar nominations for Jennifer Lopez.
Like I say, I wasn’t expecting to like this as much as I thought I would based on the trailer. What I got was a fun, exhilarating story of female empowerment with a strong, solid cast. And, as the New York Magazine article so eloquently put it, a modern Robin Hood story.