‘Hustlers’ is what happens when revenge gives way to greed

With a squad like this, how could drugging Wall Street executives go wrong?
Jennifer Lopez stars as stripper Ramona in the new girl power film “Hustlers”, directed by Lorene Scafaria. Courtesy of IMDb

This review contains spoilers for “Hustlers.”

There have been multiple movies about the woes of capitalism. Whether it is “The Wolf of Wall Street” or “The Big Short,” the financial sector has been thoroughly explored on the big screen. None of these movies are quite like Lorene Scafaria’s razor-sharp “Hustlers.”

Jennifer Lopez shines as Ramona, a seasoned veteran in the stripping industry who teaches the ways of the world to newbie Dorothy (whose stripper name is Destiny, played by Constance Wu). Together, the two women rise as some of Manhattan’s most successful strippers.

When the Great Recession of 2008 hits, the women find themselves in trouble. The bulk of Ramona and Dorothy’s clients are the same men in news reports who have lost their jobs. This leads to the women separating for a time, both focusing on providing for their daughters during the recession.

In an act of desperation, Dorothy returns to the club to continue her career in stripping. The club is not what it used to be, but neither is the American economy. One night while working, Dorothy runs into Ramona for the first time. While the financial crash took its toll on Dorothy, it certainly did not appear to take a toll on Ramona.

Ramona informs Dorothy that she has been able to stay afloat through the practice of “fishing,” which is essentially finding wealthy men at restaurants or bars and getting them to spend loads of money at the strip club, without ever telling them that they work at the club. The fishing works for a while, but Ramona is hungry for more.

Ramona ropes Dorothy into a more extreme version of fishing. Instead of just getting their victims drunk, they will drug them with a mixture of ketamine and MDMA. This lowers the men’s alertness to the point where the women will be able to steal their credit cards, social security numbers and bank information, while also wiping their memories.

While Dorothy is hesitant at first, Ramona quickly assures her that this is an act of revenge. The Wall Street men they would be stealing from are the same men who caused the financial crisis and received no jail time. This reasoning is good enough for Dorothy and the scheme begins.

At first, the women are wildly successful. Aided by the help of Mercedes (Keke Palmer) and Annabelle (Lili Reinhart), Ramona and Dorothy rake in thousands of dollars each night and are successful. As their bank accounts grow, so do their greed, and they eventually decide to outsource the operation.

Like the Wall Street men they steal from, the greed of the women is their ultimate downfall. In outsourcing their business, they turn over power into the hands of reckless people and they eventually all get arrested for their crimes.

In some ways, “Hustlers” is a deceiving movie. At first glance, it appears to be a Robin Hood story of women getting the justice they deserve on the men who ruined their lives. This is only partially true. While the women do get their revenge, it was also a hollow pursuit.

They condemn their clients for their greed and materialism while buying fur coats and penthouse suites in Manhattan. They lament for the people who lost everything during the financial crisis, but never do anything to help them.

In a deeper sense, this is a movie about sisterhood rather than revenge. Ramona and Dorothy, along with the supporting characters, have each other’s backs through the good and the bad. They celebrate each other’s plastic surgery successes and tell each other when it is time to leave their significant others.

While their sisterhood may be forged on the commonalities of their greed and shallowness, it ultimately doesn’t matter. “Hustlers” isn’t about money, capitalism or status, it is about the bonds we form with the people we love.

Edited by Joe Cross | jcross@themaneater.com

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