In 2015, an article titled “The Hustlers at Scores,” published on The Cut, detailed the story of four strippers who, following the economic crash of 2008, began a lucrative side business of drugging wealthy Wall Street businessmen and committing credit card fraud, effectively robbing them of thousands of dollars.
“Hustlers,” written and directed by Lorene Scafaria, is based on the 2015 article by Jessica Pressler and follows New York-based stripper Dorothy “Destiny” (Constance Wu), who works at a strip club to help support her and her grandmother.
Eventually, Destiny becomes close with Ramona (Jennifer Lopez), another popular performer at the club and begins to learn the about the club’s clientele, which includes prominent CEOs, bankers, and hedge funders who routinely spend thousands per visit.
Following the stock market crash of 2008 that rendered many in Wall Street unemployed and no longer willing to drop their money on strip clubs, Ramona introduces Destiny to a new scheme involving two other strippers (Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart) targeting rich men at bars, getting them drunk, and then luring them to the club where they take their credit cards and charge them to their limits. After she joins in, Destiny learns Ramona has been using a drugs to induce memory loss and impair the judgement of their target customers.
And, like most cases of fraud and long-term schemes, it works well until it inevitably doesn’t and they get caught.
One of the film’s strengths was in its story-telling narrative, as it’s told through a series of flashbacks while Destiny speaks with reporter Elizabeth, who’s writing an article about the women.
The four main actresses, Wu, Lopez, Palmer, and Reinhart, bring their characters to life in “Hustlers” while the film excels at immersing the audience and dismantling stereotypical notions of who these women are and the world they live in.
At its core, “Hustlers” is about a group of women who create a lucrative, albeit illegal, business scheme to drain money from people who got their money through lucrative, and often highly suspect, business deals.
To the characters, their crimes are justified through a dismantling of a patriarchal power imbalance that shifts the power to them rather than the men, who have repeatedly mistreated them in the past.
And it’s Destiny’s inability to continue to justify her crimes that drives the initial wedge between her and Ramona.
Though the film centers itself around the rise and fall of the strippers-turned-criminals scheme, it also raises the question of power imbalances in the public and judicial spheres. Whether it be the fact that several characters are dismissed when they tell law enforcement they were robbed by strippers, or how the women were given sentences of limited jail time and probation for grand larceny and assault, “Hustlers” is more than a quick crime thriller.
It’s not to say that the film endorses, or even condones, the women’s behavior, but rather it brings their stories, and their justifications, to the forefront. Their actions are seen as reprehensible by some, and empowering by others, and it’s all part of the larger conversation the film is pushing toward.
Overall, the film was an enjoyable watch that warrants more than just a superficial and cursory view. The cast did a wonderful job of creating these multi-dimensional characters, and whether they’re villains, heroes, or anti-heros is left up to the viewer.
Kayla Houp may be reached via email at [email protected]