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Hustlers ••1/2

Starring: Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles
Director: Ric Roman Waugh
Screenplay: Jessica Pressler, Lorene Scafaria
Comed/Crime/Drama, Rated: R
Running Time: 110 minutes
Release Date: September 13, 2019



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Scott, I think we might have been hustled with this week’s pick.

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Let’s hustle and review this flick, Gregger. First, the recap:

We’re introduced to Destiny (Constance Wu), a former stripper who is being interviewed by reporter Elizabeth (Julia Stiles) about her involvement with a shake-down artist named Ramona (Jennifer Lopez). Then we’re flashed back to 2008 where Destiny was an emerging stripper who meets Ramona for the first time. Ramona takes Destiny under her wing to teach her the ropes of the strip-tease game.

Destiny learns fast and soon they team up to earn a very healthy living off of Wall Street fat cats. But when the 2008 financial crisis hits, they discover that their income takes a huge hit, too. Ramona hatches a scheme to target wealthy men by drugging them and using their credit cards to rack up huge bills. The two women recruit a few other women to join them and soon they’re all swimming in money — until it all unravels.

Scott, the previews for this movie seemed to hinge on the pole dancing abilities of Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu. There was much hay made about how the director Lorene Scafaria brought in a pole dancing choreographer and how authentic the pole dancing would be. But then, Lopez performs only a couple minutes of pole dancing and that’s pretty much all we get. So, if you went to this movie to watch (an admittedly well performed) Jennifer Lopez show off her well-preserved body doing a lot of pole dancing, you would be sorely disappointed. This film is not about pole dancing or about sex – it’s about exploitation.

Basically the premise of this movie is that a band of strippers form an escort service where they seduce rich Wall Street men, drug them, then drain their credits. The men wake up the next morning not remembering the night before (thanks to the drug), often not even aware a crime has been committed. Some men even returned up to four times – not realizing they were getting fleeced.

This is apparently funny, heroic, and empowering because the men were all scum anyway. Some were cheating on their wives, some were rude to the women. But the biggest excuse for why these men deserved this humiliation and extortion is because they worked on Wall Street and Wall Street was responsible for the economic collapse the put the strippers (and much of America) out of business. So, it’s okay that these women created multiple crimes including assault, theft, and in some cases blackmail.

This is one of several female empowerment films we have seen in the last couple of years hot on the heels of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements (Widows, Molly’s Game). However, the sentiment is misplaced. There are, indeed, many men who are deserving of having their wallets fleeced – or even to be put in jail. But indiscriminately ambushing men just because they have money is nothing honorable. It’s still theft. These men did nothing to these women directly. They just happen to like what these women were selling – and so got robbed. Destiny, Ramona, and all her friends are crooks and are not deserving of our attention or praise. They are not heroes.

I pretty much agree with you, Gregger. Hustlers is a movie offering a cautionary tale about the dangers of succumbing to greed and to lust. Not just the greed and lust of Wall Street, but the greed and lust of humanity in general, including a bunch of down and out women who preyed on others to make a buck.

We meet a decent group of women who make a good living as strippers, but when the economy turns sour, they resort to swindling men out of money by drugging them and running up their credit cards. These women are anti-hero criminals. The movie makes sure to include information about the women to ensure that we sympathize with them. There are children to feed and grandmothers to support, for example. Still, they stole money and endangered the lives of men, most of whom are sleazy, greedy fatcats – a fact that also seems to mitigate the guiltiness of our anti-hero women. But does it? It’s up to viewers to decide.

So we’re left pondering the message of the story. What life lessons do we take away from this sordid tale? The obvious one is that greed is wrong and will always lead to moral decay, both within a society and within an individual person. The greed and corruption of Wall Street led to the huge economic downturn of 2008, which truly damaged millions of people’s lives. This film points out the tragedy of none of these greedy, corrupt banking executives going to jail. So an important message here is that our society suffers from a moral rot that poisons our souls and tempts decent people like our heroes to turn to a life of crime.

Ramona, in her final scene, says “The whole country is a strip club. You have people tossing the money and people doing the dance.” And that’s how I felt about the $12.50 I spent to see this movie. The film was sold on the merits of Jennifer Lopez’s butt, and she took my money and gave me a film with a lousy message. Nicely done.

I can’t agree with you on the anti-hero message of this movie, Scott. I think the film was pushing these women as heroes. They are villains, indeed. And much like the villain of any story, they believed they were heroes. If this were a proper anti-hero pattern, we would all agree (as would the characters) that they were in the wrong. I think this is just a bad film with a misguided message. The film clearly painted these women as heroes – which they are not. I give this film 2 out of 5 Reels, 1 out of 5 Heroes, and 1 out of 5 Message Points.

Movie: Message: Heroes:

Hustlers is an entertaining look at what happens to people when their income runs dry and they would rather turn to a life of crime rather than earn an honest living. Bad things happen, it turns out. Who knew? The audience is left to decide whether our anti-hero women are deserving of a long prison sentence or a small slap on the wrist. This movie is fairly entertaining and asks questions about ethics, greed, corruption, and deservingness that should make us all think about our motives in life. I give this film 3 Reels out of 5.

I agree with you, Greg, that these women are anti-heroes. But as I said, there are mitigating circumstances that move their crimes into a slightly gray area. Just slightly, though. Overall, the deplorable men are a hard lot to sympathize with, and the same can be said to a greater degree about Ramona and Destiny. There is a villain’s journey here, a journey that shouts at us to beware of the motivation to accumulate wealth at all costs. This is true for the exploited men as well as for our criminal stripper anti-heroes. I give Ramona and Destiny 3 Anti-Hero points out of 5. This message gets 3 out of 5 as well.

Movie: Message: Heroes:

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