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Love in this club: Hustlers 

Editor's note: Staff Writer Karen Garcia and Calendar Editor Caleb Wiseblood took over Split Screen while the Starkeys enjoyed the week off.

Writer-director Lorene Scafaria (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, The Meddler) helms this crime dramedy based on New York Magazine reporter Jessica Pressler's articles about a group of strip club performers led by Ramona (Jennifer Lopez), who through craftiness exploit their Wall Street clients and extract their riches. (110 min.)

click to enlarge CHEERS A group of strip club performers led by Ramona (Jennifer Lopez, center left) exploit their Wall Street clients and extract their riches, in the crime dramedy based on a true story, Hustlers. - PHOTOS COURTESY OF GLORIA SANCHEZ PRODUCTIONS
  • Photos Courtesy Of Gloria Sanchez Productions
  • CHEERS A group of strip club performers led by Ramona (Jennifer Lopez, center left) exploit their Wall Street clients and extract their riches, in the crime dramedy based on a true story, Hustlers.

Caleb Initially working at a strip club just to make ends meet, Dorothy (Constance Wu, Crazy Rich Asians)—or Destiny, as her clients call her—starts to embrace the profession as a long-term career after meeting Ramona (Lopez), the club's top money earner. After a friendly encounter, Ramona quickly takes Destiny under her wing, instructing her on the ins and outs of attracting wealthy, eager-to-spend-a-shit-ton customers. The opening to this section of the film reminded me of the clique listing scene in Mean Girls, as Ramona labels the different types of men Destiny should aim for—insecure guys who can be strung along for months, regulars who visit the club frequently, and the head honchos (CEOs and bankers ready to spend thousands during the course of one night). With Ramona's help, Destiny has a Goodfellas-esque rise to the top of the club alongside her, joined by some of their stripper peers, including Diamond (Cardi B) and Liz (Lizzo). If I could even muster a single complaint, it would be that those two don't get enough screen time. Other than that small nitpick, I was consistently engrossed by Hustlers all the way up to its conclusion—which echoes Goodfellas again with an inevitable fall from grace for its characters, once drugs and theft enter the picture.

Karen Before I dive into the film, I just want to add that Hustlers is based on the New York magazine article, "The Hustlers at Scores" by Jessica Pressler. Pressler reported on the true story of two women who essentially stole from mostly rich and grimy men and gave to themselves because in their minds not only did those Wall Street jerks take from others, a couple thousand dollars meant nothing to them. Hustlers is so appealing because it's based on a true story of various women from difficult backgrounds who started out with trying to make an honest living by stripping. Destiny was one of those women—she helps out her grandmother with the bills—but after partnering with Ramona, the two were unstoppable dancing their way to financial happiness. At the height of their boom or what is referred to as the "last great night," R&B singer Usher walks in the strip club making dollar bills rain on the dancers; it's glamorous and fun. Everyone is literally living their best life to the soundtrack of "Love in this Club" by Usher, obviously. Then the 2008 economic downfall happens, and it keeps the wealthy scumbags from finding their way into the strip club, ready to blow a couple thousand. It's also a time when Destiny gets pregnant with her on-again, off-again boyfriend's child. The women all try to get part-time gigs outside of the club to make ends meet but nothing really works out. When Destiny resorts to returning to the club, things have changed but Ramona remains in the business without having to dance. She's hatched a plan: She's assembled a group of women that goes out "fishing" for a man who meets their wealth standards, buys him drinks, drugs his drink, and then takes him back to the club where they max out his credit card. The man blacks out, and the women split the money. It's wrong to champion these women for drugging and stealing from these men, but it's hard not to think of them as badasses.

click to enlarge HUSTLE SISTERS Ramona (Jennifer Lopez, left) and Destiny (Constance Wu, right) were at the height of their dancing success, but they hadn't figured out the hustle until the 2008 economic crash. - PHOTOS COURTESY OF GLORIA SANCHEZ PRODUCTIONS
  • Photos Courtesy Of Gloria Sanchez Productions
  • HUSTLE SISTERS Ramona (Jennifer Lopez, left) and Destiny (Constance Wu, right) were at the height of their dancing success, but they hadn't figured out the hustle until the 2008 economic crash.

Caleb The Usher scene was hilarious, and a perfect bookmark separating the two drastically different states of the club—before and after 2008. Seeing Usher play himself added even more levity to the sequence, which ends with all of the club's strippers on stage at the same time flaunting themselves in front of the pop icon. Hustlers is definitely a film to take seriously, but it's also simultaneously one of the funniest films of the year. The humor comes from genuine interactions and character quirks rather than forced one-liners. One stripper, Annabelle (Lili Reinhart, Riverdale) involuntarily vomits when under stress—which you can probably predict is quite often. I don't recall ever finding throw-up particularly funny, but Hustlers earned the church a convert—consider me a born-again barf fan. But in all seriousness, the real stars of the film are Wu and Lopez, who deliver equally top-notch performances as two friends during a dangerously deteriorating relationship.

Karen The movie was so entertaining on so many levels, especially seeing Cardi B. Because she's a former stripper, it felt like she was playing the role of her former life. Not to mention rising hip-hop singer Lizzo playing her flute in the dressing room. The cast was just perfect and really held their own with each role. I felt like I was always rooting for Ramona to assemble her team of mystical women to fight for what they felt they deserved. While Lopez is an amazing singer and entertainer, I've never been a fan of her acting career—but this film has definitely changed that for me. I also read Jessica Pressler's article, and I feel like Scafaria kept the film pretty close to its original documentation. Hustlers is if anything a fun cautionary tale that may have some men thinking twice about their next visit to the club. Δ

Split Screen was written by Staff Writer Karen Garcia and Calendar Editor Caleb Wiseblood this week. Comment at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.

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