Hustlers is a film that opens with Janet Jackson’s hit song “Control” and it sets the tone for the entire movie – rightfully so. The film centers around a group of exotic dancers who have to take control of their own situations when the financial crisis of 2007-2008 affects their earnings and lives. Not only has the livelihood of their clientele changed, but their livelihood has gone downhill with it. With less and less big spenders frequenting the club, the women have to find alternative means to get what they’re owed.
As the ‘new girl’, Dorothy a.k.a. Destiny (Constance Wu) is doing her best to navigate her new workplace after following the money from her past club to the big money she heard about in the city. Unsure of her place at the club, and frustrated with her lack of high-paying clients, Destiny watches the veteran Ramona (Jennifer Lopez), wishing to know her secrets. Ramona takes Destiny under her wing and shows her the tricks of the trade. Ramona shows Destiny how to spot the regular Joes from the high rollers, and just how to keep men entertained in order to secure the most amount of cash.
The duo develop an easy rapport and become fast friends. The two make an amazing team and rack in hundreds of dollars a night working together. Making the most money she’s seen in a long time, Destiny is happy. She can help her grandmother (Wai Ching Ho) relieve her debt, she can pay her bills with ease and she can even have spending money on top. Everything is going well – that is until the financial crisis hits – and all of the high-paying clients disappear. With all the girls at the club going their separate ways, they lose touch. However, they all have to make ends meet and seek out jobs elsewhere. Ramona begins a retail job with former dancer Mercedes (Keke Palmer), while Destiny tries to secure new employment while taking care of her infant daughter. With no job prospects, Destiny returns to stripping and regains touch with Ramona and Mercedes.
Ramona tells Destiny of her current plan: one where the women bring the rich men they meet at bars, back to the club and get them intoxicated enough to use their credit cards, run up the limits, and no one is the wiser. Of course, the deeper the women get into this scheme, the more things begin to unravel. Friendships are tested, morals are questioned and the women find themselves faced with potential felony charges and jail time.
Directed by Lorene Scafaria, Hustlers is a testament to the bonds that women form when they truly have a common goal. Sure, the legality of the goal is questionable. However, many of us have likely been in a position where we needed money and would do whatever was necessary in order to obtain it. All the women had families and friends to take care of, so when times got tough, the women had to get tough right along with it. Now, while you know what they’re doing isn’t above board, you also cheer for the women involved along the way. They’re doing what they need to do in order to survive. Also, if we’re being honest, most of the men they’re stealing from are not the greatest, by any means. So, you don’t exactly feel bad for them. Much like all of their other issues, they’re likely to sweep this under the rug, because they would hate to admit that they were scammed by exotic dancers.
Lopez is electrifying as Ramona. In what is possibly her best performance to-date, Lopez commands attention on-screen. The way she transforms herself between what the men at the club want to see her as to the street-savvy businesswoman she truly is, is a marvel to watch. It’s no wonder that some are even calling Lopez’s performance Oscar-worthy. She truly deserves all the praise she’s been receiving. On top of that, her chemistry with Wu is exceptional. It’s quite easy to believe that the pair have been friends for years, dancing and scamming on men who are none the wiser. Much like the song that the movie begins with, Ramona and Destiny are just trying to take control of their lives and their situations. Together, the two make a formidable pair and as always, you’re rooting for them.
A smart film about bad-ass women and the bonds of friendship, Hustlers is a must-see. It will make you laugh, it will make you cry and it will have you cheering in the theater. An official selection at the Toronto International Film Festival, Hustlers is in theaters now.