Hustlers (2019)

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Food: One of the greatest pizza places of all time is a place called Roberta’s in Bushwick, where they have a large selection of artisanal wood fired pizzas and beer. The menu changes frequently, but if available, I highly recommend the pizza “Of Champions” which is made with mozzarella, cheddar, double guanciale (an Italian cured meat prepared from pork jowl), egg, pepperoncini pepper, chives and maple syrup. It is a sweet and savory combination of so many flavors that is unique and hearty, but with the thin crust you are able to enjoy a lot of the pie. Love this place. 

Film: Based off a true story about a group of strippers who steal from wealthy Wall Street clients, “Hustlers” is a glamorous and seductive crime drama made by Lorene Scafaria, starring Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu, respectively as Ramona and Destiny (with accompanying performances from Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, and Cardi B). It is based off an article written by Jessica Pressler for New York magazine (Julia Stiles plays the journalist here) that takes a deeper look into a scheme that was created by a group of women who were tired of not getting paid the amount they felt they deserved, and realized that a small amount of flirting can go a long with rich, gullible men.

The story is told through a series of flashbacks, as Destiny recounts her tales to a reporter. She takes us to her days as a rookie stripper at a high end Manhattan club, where Ramona takes her under her wing one evening, and together, they work the ins and outs of the scene to capitalize on their clientele. They know which clients are going to spend the most, how and where to seduce them, and how to work around having to pay interest to the club owners and higher ups. The first twenty minutes or so of the film are glitzy, magnetic, and irresistible. As Usher waltzes through their bar, throwing hundreds around like confetti, the dazzling dancers are the stars of the show, and they seem indestructible. Their stripper lifestyle seems high-profile, chic even. They are sexy, glamorous and seem to be riding the fast-lane to the top.

Fast forward a few years, and we see that nothing shatters the success of a strip club faster than an economic crash. It is 2008 and everyone has had to take minimum wage jobs to try to make ends meet. Destiny is a single mother now, and she’s desperate to change her life. She re-enters the strip club scene and it is dreary. Until one fateful evening she reunites with Ramona, who lets her in on her “business.” Her and a squad of other hardworking women have started to go out with vulnerable men, get them drunk (while they stay sober), drag them to the club, where they have worked out a deal that they get a percentage of whatever the clients spend. They max out the card of the blitzed sucker and send him in a taxi home. “You were having fun! You said it was the best night of your life!” Like any business, in order to grow, things escalate. Sprinkle a little bit of ketamine into their drink, and the men go into a nearly paralytic state. Hire more women to work with them, and they can get more victims per night. As you might expect, this is bound to eventually get out of control.

The film is super fun. It brings depth and authenticity and hardship, without ever getting too serious and disrupting the tone. The first portion of the movie is a party girls dream sequence, complete with an epic early 2000’s top hit soundtrack. The second half is focused on the details of the amateur organization. Scafaria uses some “Scorsesian” techniques to portray the scam – straightforward narration, slow motion theatrically composed sequences, and striking tracking shots to modernized music. She is less concerned with the morality of the crimes, giving reason for them and sympathizing with our leads, but not fully justifying the behavior. The characters are written with complexity and with a tightly knit ensemble cast, we get to enjoy seeing a range of different types of women who all partake in the same corruption.

Similar to another stripping troupe film, “Magic Mike XXL” (NOT the first one, which has a very different mood), our characters have an intriguing story line and some intimate moments, but the main take away is that the film is empowering, stimulating and just plain fun.

*And if you will watch for no other reason than to see Jennifer Lopez give the BEST DAMN STRIP TEASE OF ALL TIME, then “Hustlers” will still be worth your while.

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