Hustlers

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street Date 12/10/19;
Universal;
Drama;
Box Office $104.88 million;
$29.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray, $44.98 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for pervasive sexual material, drug content, language and nudity.
Stars Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Cardi B, Mercedes Ruehl, Lizzo, Frank Whaley.

On the surface, Hustlers would seem to be little more than the simple tale of strippers ripping off their clients. But it’s actually a deeper story of friendship, empowerment and disenfranchised women striking back to get their cut of the system.

Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria, the film was inspired by the New York Magazine article “The Hustlers at Scores: The Ex-Strippers Who Stole From (Mostly) Rich Men and Gave to, Well, Themselves,” which detailed a scheme to bring wealthy clientele into the club and intoxicate them to the point where they would run up huge credit card bills while passed out, with the ladies taking a generous cut.

Seeing Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s names pop up as producers (their production company owned the film rights to the article) might lend to an assumption that this is a comedy, although it turns out to be much more of a character drama.

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Constance Wu stars as Dorothy, a newcomer to the exotic dancing business who is taken under the wing of Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) in the early 2000s. The film does a good job showcasing the less glamorous nature of exotic dancing as a profession for women who are just trying to raise families and get by just like everyone else. Technically regarded as independent contractors, they have to pay the clubs for the opportunity to work there. But Ramona has been around long enough to have learned all the tricks to make the job both fun and profitable. In 2007 Dorothy made more than most high-profile surgeons, she brags to a reporter (Julia Stiles) in a flash-forward meant as a nod to the story’s origins as a magazine article.

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The other half of the equation is the clientele, mostly sleazy Wall Street types who love to flash their money around for a good time.

But with Wall Street hit hard by the 2008 recession, the strip clubs end up taking a hit, just as an unexpected pregnancy forces Dorothy to exit the business. After a few years trying to get by with limited job prospects, she returns to the club to find that most of the new dancers are Russian prostitutes she won’t degrade herself enough to compete with.

Enter Ramona, who decides it’s time for the girls to get their piece of the Wall Street action. She and her team of girls head into the city to “market” the club, which usually just involves picking up a lonely guy at a fancy bar and getting him drunk enough to come back with him, so they can get a cut of whatever he spends.

To up the ante, they start drugging their potential clients and stealing their credit cards, getting all the necessary PIN codes and personal information they need from the half-conscious dupes, who usually head home too embarrassed to report anything was stolen.

According to Scafaria in a solo commentary track on the Blu-ray, the film was shot at a real strip club, whose actual owner and some of the real girls who worked there appeared in the film, which lends a healthy verisimilitude to the proceedings.

Scafaria’s energetic and informative commentary turns out to be the Blu-ray’s only extra feature. In it, she also relates the themes she wanted the film to explore and expresses how fortunate she was to have landed most of her first choices for the casting and song rights.

That she apologizes for the film’s depictions of smoking and people wearing fur coats is just a sign of the times we live in now, I guess.

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