In 2015 New York magazine published an article about a group of strippers who found themselves in some serious legal troubles.
Hustlers is the new female-led film directed by Lorene Scafario (Seeking a Friend For the End of the World) and produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, which brings this interesting true story to the big screen.
Jennifer Lopez plays the group’s ringleader Ramona, but the events are told in flashback style from her younger protegee Dorothy (Constance Wu) to the journalist writing the story (in what is little more than a bit-part for Julia Stiles).
Dorothy has abandonment issues and a steely resolve to be financially independent and support the Grandmother who has raised her. Initially, Dorothy, who is new to stripping, finds herself deflated at the end of each shift. It’s not because of the nature of her work, but because by the time the club and it’s managers have taken their cut from the bills stuffed into her lingerie, she’s lucky to be left with minimum wage.
She idolizes Ramona who’s kind enough to show her the ropes and become her lap dancing partner. Empowered and enjoying themselves, the pair are riding high on the stripping lifestyle and the life it affords them.
But all good things must come to an end. When a series of events brings Dorothy’s world crashing down around her, Ramona offers her a way out of her financial troubles that she can’t resist.
The Hustlers script is smart and always bubbling with energy. The structure allows the audience to be drawn in to this new exotic world as we follow Dorothy’s point of view from overwhelmed rookie to mama on top. And the sets are always cleverly mirroring Dorothy’s feelings about the world as she sees it.
From the moment Ramona takes Dorothy under the hefty wing of her oversized fur coat J-Lo plays the perfect misguided mother figure that Dorothy never had but is also the friend she desperately needs.
Hustlers features bit parts from Cardi B and Lizzo, a funny turn from Riverdale’s Lili Reinhart and a surprise cameo from one of the world’s biggest R&B stars.
The film never exploits it’s actresses in the way that the characters exploit their customers. With Scafario directing, the strip scenes are more skilled than skanky, but she also doesn’t skirt around the less appealing parts of the job.
What shines through most though is the bonds that form beyond the stage. Female friendship is highlighted as an outlet for frustration, a safe-haven when things go pear-shaped and a fun but also necessary part of life.
The film, which is a cross of Magic Mike and Oceans Eight but more successful than them both, will certainly make you laugh but it also explores serious financial anxiety and heartbreak in scenes where you could hear a pin drop.
Hustlers is anchored by an engaging story and a talented cast playing strong, smart and sympathetic characters. Throw in cool tunes, glitzy sets and a surprising amount of social commentary for a riotous good time.
I won’t reveal the fate of the characters, but this is a clear win for women in film.
SEE IT if…
Oceans 8 left you wanting more
You like films about strong women
SKIP IT if…
You’re only interested in seeing naked chicks
You disliked Wolf on Wall Street
It gets 4 stars out of 5
Not your thing?