(Release Info London schedule; September 13th, 2019, Cineworld Leicester Square, 5–6 Leicester Square, London, WC2H 7NA, UK, 12:40pm)
Inspired by true events, "Hustlers" is a comedy-drama that follows a crew of savvy strip club employees who band together to turn the tables on their 'Wall Street' clients.
At the start of 2007, Destiny (Constance Wu) is a young woman struggling to make ends meet, to provide for herself. But it’s not easy; the managers, DJs, and bartenders expect a cut, one way or another, leaving Destiny with a meager payday after a long night of stripping. Her life is forever changed when she meets Ramona (Jennifer Lopez), the club’s top money earner, who’s always in control, has the clientele figured out, and really knows her way around a pole. The two women bond immediately, and Ramona gives Destiny a crash course in the various poses and pole moves like the carousel, fireman, front hook, ankle-hook, and stag. Another dancer, the irrepressible Diamond (Cardi B) provides a bawdy and revelatory class in the art of the lap dance. But Destiny’s most important lesson is that when you’re part of a broken system, you must hustle or be hustled. To that end, Ramona outlines for her the different tiers of 'The Wall Street' clientele who frequent the club. The two women find themselves succeeding beyond their wildest dreams, making more money than they can spend; until the September 2008 economic collapse. 'Wall Street' stole from everyone and never suffered any consequences. Now, Ramona, Destiny, and two dancers who’ve joined their little family, the unstoppable Mercedes (Keke Palmer) and the young and innocent Annabelle (Lili Reinhart), look to turn the tables. They cook up an inventive scheme to get their lives back on the fast-track to success. The game is still rigged against them, so to even the playing field Ramona devises a special drug cocktail that leaves their customers helpless against the ladies charms. Nobody’s really getting hurt, they reason; it’s just like robbing a bank, except the men are handing them the keys. The foursome create a bond tighter than any family; until things get out of control.
Destiny's mother abandoned her when she was very young, so she has trust issues. She hasn’t let a lot of people in. The lack of meaningful relationships with women in her family life makes Destiny's longing for female friendship so much greater. Destiny’s friendship with Ramona is the heart and soul of "Hustlers, while also being rich in nuance and surprises. Though Destiny enjoys the bounties coming from the group's larcenous schemes, she sees the true benefits as transcending dollars and material things. She just gets caught up in the loving feeling of family, the feeling of being a part of something. An us-against-the-world type thing. Destiny is a character who's deeply lonely, because of how our culture causes such loneliness. The color palette is muted, at first, as the film introduces to Destiny and experience the hardships of her day at the club. But after she meets Ramona and the other ladies, and they become a crew, the stripping comes alive and we add more and more color and glamour, especially in the private rooms, where the lap dances happen. Destiny is so beautiful because of her solitude, and the ways she tried to pretend her way out of it seemed counter intuitive, but also so very human.
What Ramona is for Destiny reminds us of this quote from Patricia Highsmith’s 'The Talented Mr. Ripley', the thing with Dickie, it's like the sun shines on you, and it's glorious. And then he forgets you and it's very, very cold. When you've his attention, you feel like you're the only person in the world, that's why everybody loves him so much. Destiny's dream come true is for Ramona to love her. There's a big sister/little sister dynamic between Destiny and Ramona, even though their individual approaches to the world are very different. She further notes that Destiny’s motives can easily be misunderstood. You can look at her in different ways. She enjoys the money but is really in it more for the camaraderie than she's for the cash. Ramona is endearing but also complicated and damaged, and her ambition threatens to cloud her sense of morality and connection with Destiny and the rest of the women. She’s on a slippery slope and seduces people to her own agenda. Ramona is always reaching further than she should. Ramona is everything at once, the sun that shines brightly on you, but which can also burn you. She’s a 'Mama Bear' and 'Gordon Gekko', at the same time. That dichotomy is what makes her an anti-hero.
Mercedes is fearless and always says what’s on her mind. She has a sense of humor about almost everything. She learns to depend on one another and know they’re in a tough spot that requires them to hustle. Yet they find a sense of hope together. Mercedes thinks of Ramona, Destiny and Annabelle as sisters. Mercedes is loyal and down for the ride, she’s definitely one of those ride-or-die type of people, but at the same time she’s not afraid to run when shit get crazy because she will always protect herself. Mercedes can always make Ramona laugh and bring her joy. She's also cool and put-together, even when trying to make ends meet and deal with a boyfriend who’s been imprisoned for much of their relationship. The youngest member of the quartet is Annabelle, a striking combination of innocence and allure. Your heart goes out to her. Annabelle is in an especially vulnerable place when we meet her; she’s living without her family, which has rejected her because of Annabelle’s profession; and trying to get by the best way she can. Her responds to Ramona’s motherly care and immediately bonds with her. Annabelle is the beating heart of the sisterhood, the one that they all love, and it's odd duck; and Annabelle has that lovable quality. One of Annabelle’s defining traits is her penchant for vomiting whenever she’s under stress.
Diamond is lovable in a very different way. As embodied by the legendary rapper, singer, songwriter, Diamond is a tough girl from the Bronx who’s worked at the club for a year. She’s a little more hardcore and acerbic than the other dancers. Diamond doesn’t take shit from anyone, but, thanks to Ramona, she eventually connects with Destiny and joins the ladies in celebrating their new bonds. She even provides a hilarious lap-dancing lesson for Destiny. Liz (Lizzo) is an ebullient stripper and pole dancer. Tracey (Trace Lysette) is a dancer. Justice (Mette Towley) is the only stripper with a tagline all her own. Justice is served. She's a dancer known for her hypnotic and improvisational hip-hop moves. Another key figure in the story is neither a stripper nor a part of this newly-formed sisterhood. A reporter, Elizabeth (Julia Stiles), is chronicling the story of these women through interviews with Destiny and Ramona. Elizabeth is a reality check on the fantasy of what these women pulled off.
It's a celebration of sisterhood, and what a tight-knit family of women have to do for a fighting chance. They're moms, friends, sisters, and daughters, who forge these incredible bonds that transcend their differences. These women did not invent the game; they just tried to level the playing field. It’s about right, wrong, and how far you’ll go to hustle for your dreams. Their struggles are 100 percent relatable. They want to take care of themselves and their families, and we wanted to make sure we brought that all to life. These girls are from different backgrounds. Each has her own baggage, traumas, family problems, and they find solace in being together through all of that. They provide a sisterhood for one another that looks like it won’t falter, even in a competitive and nasty world. These characters work hard hustling for their money to provide for themselves and their families. Their camaraderie is priceless and necessary for their survival, and that is something almost any woman can relate to. "Hustlers" digs into the stories of these women’s lives and shows the good, the bad, and the ugly.
The outfits, designs, and period context play integral roles in shaping the characters and narrative. Audiences experience the world of these women’s lives, their journey, and level of sophistication, through the design of the sets and color palette. Usually, a club’s dressing rooms lockers store all the dancer's’belongings. But we see them prepare to go on stage, with all their makeup, garments, and grooming tools filling up the frame. Later, as the ladies become increasingly wealthy, the film removes much of the color, to heighten the contrast as they break through an economic barrier and a new level of sophistication. The scenes set in the gentlemen’s club are more visually dynamic, with reflections, color, and neon, giving it a little more life. There’s a family quality when Destiny, Ramona, Mercedes, and Annabelle are together; they could even be wearing pajamas. But for their male customers, they weaponize their style, using their hemlines, cleavage, whatever is available to them. We often see male action characters donning accessories like bullet-proof vests or wielding guns; the ladies accessories are just as formidable.
The ladies journey of elaborate cons is their response to a broken system that has left them at the bottom of a patriarchal hierarchy that’s been in place since, well, forever. Their struggles to overcome and break through these circumstances resonate because, like everyone, they’re looking to take care of themselves and their families and live that 'American Dream' that feels out of reach for them and so many others. Their ingenious, if ethically questionable tactics include spiking the drinks of their targets, a never-ending stream of 'Wall Street Kingpins' who've long treated the ladies like their playthings. Moreover, these tycoons have long been making money off the broken dreams of everyday Americans, and, the ladies’ reason, it’s time to turn things around. Still, the quartet’s actions are not heroic. They're definitely anti-heroes and survivors in a game that's rigged. There’s a line in the film about how few men would admit they had been scammed by a woman. Their sense of pride prevents them from reporting it. These men aren’t interested in getting to know who these women are; they're more interested in making them into who they want them to be. These guys feel untouchable, and they don’t see it coming. Though these women work in a value system that can be insidious, we feel for the male characters as well, because they’re valued most for their wealth and power, as women are valued for their beauty. The system is broken for both.
Looking at the era in which the story unfolds, the film explains that the high-flying early and mid-2000s saw the rise of gown clubs, where the dancers donned expensive-looking frocks. It was a time of 'Trumpian Faux' wealth and high golds. But after the stock market crash in 2008, they transitioned to character clubs, where each dancer played a role that worked best for her. If there’s a little space between two timeframes, you can appreciate period fashions. But since 2007 is so close to the present, it’s still embarrassing to dive back there and look at some of those fashions and hairstyles. It’s amazing how different the world looked even then, the eyebrows, cut of the trousers, earrings the size of dinner plates. So, we just decided to go for it and embrace it all. The truth is we’re all hustling, negotiating, striving to get through the day to win the battles we must fight. Women are constantly sexualized, but when they find a way to profit from that, all of the sudden it’s a problem. In movies, strippers are painted as throwaways or just background characters. The film leads to deeper conversations, about empathy, and about a specific occupation and those who work at it, most of whom have long been misunderstood or underestimated.
"Hustlers" brings together a compelling mix of humor, spectacle, social commentary, and a group of disparate women who team up and look for ways to even the odds that are stacked against them. This city, this whole country, is a strip club. You’ve got people tossing the money, and people doing the dance. It’s about a relatable issue that affects so many. It's about greed, power, and 'The American Dream' and what a certain group of women, who work in a field where they're discounted, will do to achieve it. An amorality story about the slippery slope of the hustle. It’s a slice of life and a cautionary tale about what happens when your ambition is bigger than the reality of your situation. The film presents a world we may have seen in many movies and TV shows, but from a different perspective. It’s an epic mix of crime drama, stripper movie, and an exploration of the economic upheaval that upendied the lives of so many.