Just because a movie is female-centric and features a diverse cast doesn’t make it a masterpiece, but “Hustlers” is a pretty damn good feminist-angled critique of American capitalism. Based on the true story of a group savvy former strip club dancers who band together to turn the tables on their Wall Street clients, this is an original, empowering, and equally alarming drama about what those who are down on their luck will do to just keep surviving.
Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) is a successful exotic dancer, working long hours to support her daughter and taking newbies (Constance Wu, Lili Reinhart) under her wing. When the recession of 2007 hits, suddenly the Bull market turns to a Bear market and the rich traders and CEOs no longer have piles of money and padded expense accounts to spend on extravagant nights out at the strip club. Struggling to keep themselves afloat, the women cook up an elaborate con on the very definition of the male establishment by secretly drugging and luring rich dudes into the club where they max out their credit cards in a night of supposed debauchery.
Although their scam is horribly wrong and these women are obvious criminals, the line of morality becomes a little blurred, especially as the ladies attempt to convince themselves (and the audience) that these lecherous dudes had it coming.
The movie drags a little too often with overly long shopping and partying montages which could’ve used the benefit of a bit more editing. A tighter film would’ve played much better, but this is still an overall success.
The cast (including Keke Palmer, Julia Stiles, Mercedes Ruehl and Cardi B) is perfect all around, and writer / director Lorene Scafaria has constructed an organic sisterhood full of scenes with authentic female bonding. It’s an intimate, human story that’s told from the point of view of those often scorned by polite society. Lopez and Wu in particular deserve much credit for bringing an unexpected, sincere empathy to these characters. These are women doing very bad things, but they aren’t inherently awful themselves.
Even more interesting is the feminist angle that’s brought to a true crime story. The different values society places on men (success, power) and women (good looks, beautiful bodies, motherhood) is turned upside down, but there’s not a debate if it’s right or wrong, just a nod of recognition that nothing ever really changes.
Much like “Magic Mike” explored the underbelly of the male exotic dancer industry, this film humanizes strippers, sex workers, single mothers, and those who have the business sense (if not total business smarts) and burning drive to make more money and better their lives. The fact that these are women taking the reigns makes “Hustlers” a fitting movie for current times.