Last weekend I saw two films on the same day. The first was an art film with a
prestigious pedigree about the real Shakespeare titled "All is True" which
starred some of the best stage actors in England including Kenneth Branaugh,
Judi Dench and Sir Ian Murray McKellen.
The other film, "Hustlers" had a trashy preview and is about pole dancing con
artists. It features the rappers, Rizzo and Cardi B, and Jennifer Lopez who has
not done a decent film for decades (the last one I can remember is The Cell).
Although I had much lower expectations for "Hustlers", it ended up being the far
superior entertainment choice of the two. It had more inventive direction ("All
is True" looked like play shot on film) and the realistic characters were well
developed whereas the ones in "All is True" were as distant and unapproachable
as stone monuments.
In case you did not hear, the phenomenally popular new rapper Cardin B. (gee, I
wonder why she changed her original name, Belcalis Marlenis Almánza) who has a
small but fun role in the movie actually worked as a stripper in real life. Many
of the songs on her surprisingly good debut album, Invasion of Privacy are about
her experiences in the profession.
The eclectic mixed bag Hustlers soundtrack includes songs (some of which are
well used in the film) from Janet Jackson, Fiona Apple, Lil Wayne, Chopin and
believe it or not The Four Seasons. Some of the strippers bond over the memories
they had related to a Four Seasons song in one of the film’s best moments.
There is also a catchy new number by Cardi B. which reflects the attitude of the
greed obsessed main characters. In the song Cardi raps, “I like boardin' jets, I
like mornin' sex/But nothing in this world that I like more than checks.”
The Hustlers script is based on a New York magazine article by Jessica Pressler
about what happened when a bunch of dancers at the strip club, Scores decided to
perpetuate a scam victimizing their high income clients.
Hustlers was directed by a relative new comer, Lorene Scafaria who previously
did some episodes of New Girl as well as the films, Nick & Norah's Infinite
Playlist (2008) and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012).
Scarfaria’s approach to the stripper characters is more sympathetic than
exploitative. You can always see where the women are coming from even if you
disagree with their choices.
The film’s story is mostly told in flashback as one of the strippers, Destiny
answers questions from a journalist who sneakily turns the girls against each
other. The journalist is played by Julia Stiles, who was once a very promising
actress (she has a better resume than the whole rest of the cast combined.)
Jennifer Lopez (of American idol and Selena fame) exudes street smarts when she
plays Ramona, a ruthless mother figure, and Constance Wu is Destiny (who was in
Crazy Rich Asians for which she got a Golden Globe nomination), a naïve novice
who fights a losing battle to stay moral while she is making money illegally.
Ramona, is tough as nails but she has a compassionate side. When she sees that
Destiny is struggling to compete in a strip club for attention she takes her
under her wing and teaches her some sultry dance movies. For while they are very
But their luck changes around 2008 when the club starts hemorrhaging money. Both
women quit and lose touch with each other. As Destiny is hitting rock bottom
(she has since had a kid, lost her husband and her job) she runs into Ramona who
is obviously doing much better.
Ramona begins mentoring her again and the two begin an elaborate scam which will
allow them to get back at the corporate criminals that tanked the economy and in
most cases ripped everyone off and got off scott free.
They (along with some other dancers) begin meeting up with wealthy men then they
feed them drugged drinks which give them the opportunity to max out the men’s
credit cards and in some cases the women manage to even get their social
security numbers. Most of the men are sleaze bags who deserve to be conned, but
at least one of them is a quasi-noble soul who does not deserve what he gets.
The film follows the same basic pattern as
Wolf of Wall Street
and Good Fellas. The villainous but likeable protagonists find a scam or illegal
racket; they make tons of money; then someone gets careless and the whole
enterprise falls apart like a deck of cards.
But this film manages to inject enough humanity, originality, local color and
good dialog into the mix to make it all fresh and lively as long as viewers do
not expect Shakespeare level plot complexity or sophistication.