© Universum/Concorde

U.S.A. 2019

Opening 28 Nov 2019

Directed by: Lorene Scafaria
Writing credits: Jessica Pressler, Lorene Scafaria
Principal actors: Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles, Mette Towley, Wai Ching Ho

Inspired by the 2015 article “The Hustlers at Scores” published in The New York Magazine, Hustlers details the story of a group of strip club dancers who conjure up and execute a Robin-Hood-like scheme when the Wall Street crash of 2008 dries up their free-spending business clientele at the strip club. Early in the film, the more timid Rosie (Constance Wu) is taken under the wing of veteran and highly charismatic stripper Samantha (Jennifer Lopez), and they develop a close friendship as Samantha shows Rosie how to cultivate her talents, and they work as a team to ensure their financial ability to support their daughters as single mothers.  Eventually, Samantha becomes the mastermind of the plan to drug their clients and max out the men’s credit cards, sometimes upwards of $10,000 or even $20,000.  As time goes on, Rosie and Samantha are joined by additional women, which results in less ability to keep things under their close control.

The movie briefly acknowledges, but quickly moves past, some of the darker elements encountered by dancers at strip clubs, choosing to focus primarily on the relationships of the women, how their scheme was executed, and how they succeeded in avoiding jail time when inevitably the police become involved. The film is well-paced, never dawdling as it dramatically establishes the strip club scene and moves somewhat suspensefully through the story of the women’s plans, splicing real time action with interviews conducted by journalist Jessica Pressler (Jessica Stiles) researching the article on which the movie is based.

The elements of what is admittedly a somewhat interesting, potentially true tale, lack depth in the film, which comes across in many ways as a long music video (a point driven home by one particularly titillating Jennifer Lopez dance scene involving very high heels and a stripper pole). The friendships are shallow, and numerous scenes focus on shopping and the gifting of extravagant presents (again, in a music video montage), and the characters are portrayed less as real women striving for financial control of their lives and more as caricatures of money-hungry seductresses. The movie spends little time pondering the ethics underlying the women’s choices and how they took financial advantage of the men who have effectively taken physical advantage of them in their profession for years. (Andrea Matthiessen)

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