Ramona Meets Her Destiny: Hustlers
It's not always easy for people to make ends meet on the money they earn. A group of dancers find a way to make their work much more lucrative in Hustlers. This based-on-fact story begins in 2007 New York, when an gentleman's club dancer named Destiny (Constance Wu) has a hard time making enough money to support herself and her grandmother. One night after her set, she stays to catch the act of the club's top draw, Ramona (Jennifer Lopez). Afterwards, Destiny approaches Ramona, seeking Ramona's advice, which the popular dancer happily shares. As Destiny starts to fare better, however, she meets a man, gets pregnant, and the pair have a baby girl. The couple doesn't stay together, so Destiny tries to find a new job. The only place willing to hire her is the club, where things have not changed for the better.
Fortunately for Destiny, she does reconnect with Ramona, who invites the new mother to join a new money-making scheme. They target Wall Street workers who frequent the club. They meet with them, slip a concoction into their drinks that affects their senses, then they max out the credit cards the men carry with the help of the club. Ramona, at first, has just two other ladies in on the scheme - Mercedes (Keke Palmer) and Annabelle (Lili Reinhart). Together, the four work their scheme, and find a way to eliminate the club as a middle man of sorts. As their operation grows, Ramona and Destiny bring in others, but Ramona grows less particular in the ladies she brings aboard. The moves create a rift between Destiny and Ramona. Trouble soon comes when one of the men they scammed goes to the police, and everyone in the operation gets arrested. As they await trial, Destiny and Ramona take turns talking about their deceit with a journalist named Elizabeth (Julia Stiles).
Hustlers is an enjoyable film, but scenarist-director Lorene Scafaria, who uses journalist Jessica Pressler's article as a basis for the movie, seems to be heavily influenced seems to be heavily influenced by a couple of Martin Scorsese's based-on-fact films. Like the mobsters in GoodFellas, Ramona and her crew get wrapped up in their crime spree and don't see the bad times coming. Like the mobsters in Casino, they work their scam in ways that maximize their take. Standards they created fall by the wayside. Even though the women clearly engage in illegal activities, Scafaria does have some sympathy for her characters, as they have found a way to succeed in a world where men dominate. However, Scafaria doesn't let viewers know much about the people in this movie except the leads. The pace helps to keep the movie engaging, though.
Lopez and Wu make a good pair of partners in crime. As Ramona, Lopez knows she's the one the men want to see the most. She's confident without being entirely vain. She becomes a mentor to Destiny, teaching her the dance moves and other techniques that lead to success. Their alliance becomes a way to stick it to the men who have more money than they need. Wu is very good as the new member of Ramona's inner circle. learning how to make a better living than she ever imagined. She's the one who sticks to the rules, and grows tired of cleaning uo the messes when others don't. This pair is also good for some laughs as they try and perfect the formula they use by trying it on themselves first. Singers Cardi B, Lizzo, and Usher also appear in small roles.
Hustlers, in addition to its entertainment value, can also be seen as a statement about the financial crisis that happened during a portion of the time in which this movie is set. Like many enterprises that survived for an inordinate amount of time on shaky financial ground, these ladies didn't look ahead to the inevitable, and never cared about the people they hurt. Only one of them stuck to the plan and believed certain lines should not be crossed, and adhered to the rules set forth at the outset. It's not that these ladies had the best of intentions, but they saw a way to take advantage, just as some of their marks didn't behave with a great deal of ethics. None of them had a vision of the end game until it arrived.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Hustlers three stars. A 21st century version of the Wall Street Shuffle.
© 2019 Pat Mills