Hustlers (2019)

(IMdB)

Based on a true(?) story, or at least a magazine article about a group of women – call them exotic dancers, call them strippers – who, having made a lot of money prior to the financial crisis in the late 2000s, find themselves struggling to make ends meet. Ends, however, are met, when a group of them hit upon a plot to drug rich men, themselves of dubious morality, and do obscene things to their credit cards.

The movie stars Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez, as Destiny and Ramona, respectively. Destiny is a younger stripper, who has to support her grandmother. She is taken under Ramona’s furcoat-clad wing and into Ramona’s heart. When times get tough, they hit on this scam and, along with sidekicks, Mercedes and Annabelle, both of whom are played deliciously by Keke Palmer and Lili Reinhart, respectively, they set about parting men from their money and their dignity.

This isn’t always a comfortable movie to watch. It does, after all, involve people being drugged, some of whom cut very pathetic figures. For me, it somewhat subverts the usual perception of rape culture. It’s a group of beautiful and charming women drugging men, not for their bodies, but for their money, and it comes with shame and with the sort of victim-blaming we’ve seen too often in another context. When one man is duped more than once, a cop says ‘he must have liked it’. Sure, the guys weren’t asked what they were wearing but there was a sense that they had asked for it.

Of course, let it not be forgotten that these guys are likely hedge fund managers and CEOs of extremely dubious financial practices, who have somehow survived the crash with well-lined pockets.

Destiny and Ramona are both phenomenal characters and it’s hard not to root for their continued success, even when the wheels come off their venture. Both Wu and Lopez are incredibly compelling in this movie, seductive and scheming but both somehow rather naive at the end of it all. The

Julie Stiles plays journalist, Elizabeth, presumably to remind us that there is some unreliable narration at play here and one of the most touching scenes comes towards the end, when Elizabeth meets Ramona, and we see that Ramona is exactly who we thought she was; a loyal, loving friend.

I absolutely recommend seeing this movie. It’s beautifully made, the acting is superb and the soundtrack is absolutely fantastic, switching between Britney Spears, Lorde, Usher and numerous Chopin Études.

(An aside: I used to listen to Chopin’s Études while studying for my Leaving Cert. Maybe it helped.)

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