The glitz and glamour of Wall Street? Check. Simultaneously sexy and savvy women? Double check. A based-on-a-true-story drama full of twists and turns? Triple check. “Hustlers,” a film written and directed by Lorene Scafaria that opened to the public last Friday, checks all of these boxes and more, making it easy to predict that it will be a box-office smash.
The film, based on the viral 2015 New York Magazine article entitled “The Hustlers at Scores,” follows Dorothy (played by Constance Wu) a.k.a. Destiny, as she calls herself in the stripper world, a young woman attempting to support herself and her grandmother while struggling to make ends meet. Enter the enticing world of the strip club, and its resident queen, Ramona Vega (played by Jennifer Lopez).
After a few failed attempts at making money herself at the club, Destiny turns to Ramona, who mentors the younger girl and introduces her to high-profile clients. Things are going well for Destiny and Ramona, a two-woman tag team who refer to themselves as “hurricanes,” until the 2008 financial crisis hits.
Unable to get a minimum-wage paying job and armed with the responsibility of taking care of both her grandmother and her own child, Destiny returns to the nearly-empty strip club. This time, however, Ramona, along with other dancers Mercedes (played by Keke Palmer) and Annabelle (played by Lili Reinhart), has concocted a plan to make sure the girls get the money they need: Slip potential clients a not-quite-lethal mix of Ketamine and MDMA, take them to the strip club, max out their credit cards and send them home with no recollection of the night.
The structure of the film lends to the journalistic lens through which “Hustlers” is shot: Instead of typical chronology, the film follows the events narrated by Destiny while talking to Elizabeth (played by Julia Stiles), the reporter writing an article about the scam. Thus, the descriptions are clearly from Destiny’s point of view, putting the events in an unapologetically subjective light.
One of the best parts of the film was how it barely wavered from the true story, while still maintaining some forms of artistic liberty. “The Hustlers at Scores,” an article written by Jessica Pressler, quickly went viral after uncovering the scam set up by strippers at the Hustler nightclub. The scam involved a “new” type of Robin Hood mentality, as Pressler herself described it: Take from the rich men of Wall Street and give to themselves.
While names were changed for the movie — the character of Destiny is most likely based on the life of Roselyn Keo, while Ramona embodied Samantha Foxx — the general story was completely accurate, making it even more interesting and, at times, incredible.
Another well-crafted aspect was the way “Hustlers” depicted the jobs and lives of the strippers themselves. While the film didn’t overly glamorize their lifestyle, it didn’t degrade the lifestyle, either. Rather it was treated solely as the job the girls did, nothing more or less. This was a refreshing take, especially because mainstream media has shamed sex work of any kind for so long.
The film also depicted the bond between the girls, especially in the beginning of the movie when things were good at the club. Rather than compete against one another, the girls worked together, which would prove monetarily advantageous for everyone involved.
Finally, the incredible acting in the film is another element that cannot be overlooked. While the entire ensemble shined — with fun supporting roles from Cardi B and Lizzo as other strippers at the club — Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez were definite stand-outs. This role showcased Wu’s versatility as an actress, as her previous film breakthrough role in “Crazy Rich Asians” is as different as can be from “Hustlers.” And, as with everything else she does, J.Lo brought an energy and sparkle to the screen like no one else.
However, one area in which “Hustlers” seemed to fall flat was the portrayal of the deeper characters of these women. While it was clear that depicting these women as round, well-developed individuals was important to the director, this intention never seemed to fully pan out. The audience did get background information on both Destiny and Ramona, which perhaps contributed to the audience’s understanding of the characters and their actions, yet it seemed disconnected from the overall performances of the characters.
In general, though, “Hustlers” not only follows but excels at creating the blockbuster movie recipe. Between the deeper story and the pure entertainment factor, the film is not one to be missed.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Lucie Turkel is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.