“Hustlers” rustled up a strong premiere this past weekend, earning $33.2 million, but despite the film being a great way to spend a couple of hours watching an all-female cast imitate Robin Hood, it lacks the depth and cohesion found in its comparable predecessor, “Ocean’s 8.” While “Hustlers” breaks open the dark underbelly of corporate men during the recession of 2008, it offers shallow fun and character chemistry issues. So, why watch it?
The film follows an inexperienced stripper named Destiny (Constance Wu) as she befriends one of the top dancers at Moves, Ramona (Jennifer Lopez). Together their friendship evolves from training on the poles to hustling the biggest spenders for everything they can, by drugging the clientele. The girl-gang of Robin Hood strippers uses the recession as moral justification for stealing thousands and expands to include other dancers such as Mercedes (Keke Palmer) and Annabelle (Lili Reinhart). But it’s an empowering, progressive storyline with some problematic undertones.
Being that the film is based off of real events, it does well at humanizing strippers in a degrading industry. Emphasis is placed on their family lives and how their morals work with their personal motivations. But these goals don’t last long. The movie is mostly based in 2008, with jumps to 2014 where Destiny, whose real name is Dorothy, is being interviewed for an article. She comments about her dislike of strippers being portrayed criminally, but by the end of “Hustlers” that’s all the strippers are.
Destiny, who is of asian decent, is first introduced with the stereotypical color streak that plagues Hollywood’s idea of how to make an asian character interesting. It’s only after her role is established as a ringleader that the streak is no more. The nature of Destiny and Ramona’s relationship is confusing, as well. They cuddle quite closely under a coat before Destiny was caught enjoying her perform not long before. The eye contact is more than average through the film. While Ramona takes on a nurturing role at Moves, Destiny’s connection with her appears to be more than friends. This creates a disconnect between the characters that doesn’t seem like it was intended.
While the film focuses mainly on Destiny and Ramona, the other strippers still have a strong presence. Reinhart’s performance as Annabelle is a bit too infantilized for good taste, but she is nonetheless the lighter, moral compass of the girl-gang with an easily queasy stomach. Palmer’s role as Mercedes is exactly what you would expect: energetic and hilarious. The greatest hype around this movie focuses on Lizzo (Liz) and Cardi B (Diamond) making their acting debut. They truly do bring the kind of energy the film needs, but their roles are so short it feels more like a cameo than anything else.
Issues aside, “Hustlers” is a strong addition to the new, and much needed, wave of female-led films. It convinces the viewer that their crimes are well justified because the men they’re robbing are incredibly deplorable. A corporate executive convinces Destiny to give him a blow job for $300 and then leaves only $60. A CEO tosses money on the chair only when he’s pleased enough during a private dance. Another executive borders on sexual assault when he’s only sitting at a bar with a girl because he’s just that entitled. So, while the women in the film definitely “work” the men, it’s far from unfair.
At the very least, this film deserves to be seen if you want to watch women give a big “middle finger” to misogyny and take from the rich in an unsavory way. Just don’t expect it to be perfect.