Hustlers Movie Review: A Fine Story Gone Dry


“Motherhood is a mental illness,” says Ramona a veteran stripper who becomes a criminal who uses her body to lure men, drug them and rob them. Sounds like a great concept? It is. More than a concept, it is a true-life experience of four women who made small fortunes as strippers in some of Manhattan’s biggest clubs, then the financial crisis happens and puts the bevies out of business. Many remain to earn crumbs, some go into the society to earn minimum wages and some, the main characters, become Robin Hoods of the sex niche, robbing Peter and Paul to enrich themselves. Hustlers.

Ramona makes the above comment around the beginning of the show when the women are having a ball, stuffing their panties, bras, and socks with dollar bills. When the financial crisis happens, the faucet is turned off and the movie dries up. Jennifer Lopez who portrays Ramona was the main attraction for me to watch this movie. I didn’t know until just before I watched the movie that it was based on true life experiences of actual strippers recorded by Jessica Pressler of the New York Magazine. Learning that it was inspired by true-life stories was like a crossroad for me. Biopics and biographical movies have usually turned out to be too dry, too sanctimonious, or exaggerated for me. But biopics of criminals are usually fun as the filmmakers explore the antiheroism in mankind and highlight their struggles to be good people and good citizens. The fact that Hustlers was will follow the lives of four women was my assurance that it will be a fun watch.

And it was a fun watch in the beginning when we saw Cardi B, Lizzi and a host of bevies talking trash and living their best lives. After the Wall Street Crash, the film became dry and a thinly veiled documentary. We see the main character Destiny played by Constance Wu struggling to survive the aftermath of the crisis. She no longer has to care for her grandmother alone, she now has a daughter from a failed relationship to carter for as well. We see Ramona on her own side trying to raise her daughter while working with a jerk of a boss for small wages. By the time Destiny reunits with Ramona, Ramona has given up on trying to make legal money and is now in a team of three, drugging men and robbing them. Destiny becomes the fourth thief.

Hustlers: The failures of the movie

“Hustlers” falls short of a great movie because the director Lorene Scafaria read the article and let the article run the story. Of course, the characters and setting were fictionalized, but watching the motions and the scenes where men are sheepishly led by the women to the slaughterhouse gave the impression that the director is afraid of going too far from the journalist’s story. According to the New York Times, the director made it clear she was on the side of the women, an error; she should have been on the side of the viewers and reward them by making a good movie. If she felt the women’s side would sell, she should have made a documentary instead and talk to community aid workers who would tell the world how hard it is to make a normal living after going the raunchy way, and how the men they rob are uncaring adulterers who deserve to lose every cent they lost.

Anna movie review

See, you can never tell an ethically ambiguous story by taking any side and tell a good story. You would have to concentrate on making a good story and let the viewer decide what side to take. Taking any side is meddling with the story. What the director should have done was to invoke powerful emotions. Destiny’s grandmother was a missed opportunity. We should have seen more of her and hear her tell her story and smell her breath and hardship. We should have seen more than just a glimpse of Destiny’s failed relationship, and showing a crying child is not a way to invoke emotions and connect with the viewer. But the director was in a hurry to get us to the fun of robbing and drugging men. The first man they rob was rather interesting to watch, the second was kinda fun, the third was a routine, the fourth boring. Making these robberies and the popping of champagne that follow prominent cost the film. The film would have earned more points if the pre-crisis stripping was given the same prominence as the robberies.

Ironically, one time the director achieved an emotional connection with the viewer was when one of Destiny’s victim calls and cries for his credit card because he cannot afford not to pay his mortgage. When the character of Lopez snatches the phone from Destiny and shuts the call down, she loses every atom of sympathy you may have had for her. Even the biggest criminals have somehow maintained some sympathy from viewers. When Ghost gets shot in Starz “Power” mid-season finale, there are not many who would claim they were happy about it; many care about Ghost if not for him. I don’t care about Ramona, I am indifferent about Destiny and the two other girls, Mercedes and Annabelle (played by Keke Palmer and Lili Reinhart), annoy me.

After movie review

Why did the director take the trouble to write out the sentences the girls get from the court? They were criminals and the courts gave them slight slaps on their wrists and then the movie ends with the girls dancing like they won the World Cup. It is a terrible ending. A somber ending was what the movie was screaming for. Destiny’s visit to her grandmother’s grave to ask for forgiveness or holding her daughter and declaring that she would work hard not to let her daughter make the same mistakes would do.

How would you rate “Hustlers”?

First, let me make it clear that it wasn’t all bad in the movie. The concept is great and that performance from Lopez can stand to be a subject of discussion on its own and it will be full of praises. That time she is on stage and the men are throwing money at her is powerful. If I was there I would also throw money and want to touch flesh (judge me, I judge you back). I hear people mention Oscar and Jennifer Lopez’s performance in one sentence. If the film ended after the financial crisis, I would say, give her the prize. Her character after that is full of swearing, giggling, jumping, and leading drugged men on. There is nothing phenomenon about these. Lopez should be glad to get an Oscar nomination.

I would rate “Hustlers” 6 out of ten. Five actually but it earns one extra point because of its female main characterization which has been rare in the cinemas this year.

Image source: Hollywood Reporter

Amos JC

Amos JC

Amos JC is the head of movies and TV content.