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Film / Hustlers

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"This city, this whole country, is a strip club. You've got people tossing the money, and people doing the dance."

Hustlers is a 2019 dramedy from writer/director Lorene Scafaria. It stars Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles, Lili Reinhart, Keke Palmer, Lizzo, and Cardi B.

Inspired by a New York Magazine article, “The Hustlers at Scores”, the film follows a stripper named Dorothy/Destiny (Wu), who befriends veteran dancer Ramona Vega (Lopez) and teams up with her, plus fellow dancers Annabelle (Reinhart) and Mercedes (Palmer) to con rich Wall Street men after the 2008 recession hits their club hard. The film is framed to show Dorothy telling her story to a reporter (Stiles).

Compare Magic Mike, which is also set in a strip club and loosely inspired by real life events.

This film provides examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Past: The film was released in 2019, but the framing device takes place through 2014 and 2015, with the events depicted take place during the 2007/08 financial crisis and then jumping to 2011 where the girls begin their criminal activities, which last until 2013.
  • Adaptation Name Change:
    • Dorothy/Destiny and Ramona Vega's real life counterparts were known as Rosie and Samantha Foxx (née Barbash).
    • Likewise, Moves was known as Scores in real life.
  • Advertised Extra: Lizzo and Cardi B are billed among the rest of the main cast, but they only have brief appearances in the first act.
  • Ambiguous Criminal History: Two of the dancers are said to have been sent to jail. For what, we never find out.
  • Ambiguously Bi:
    • Destiny, who has two failed relationships with men and a stronger female relationship with her coworker and best friend Ramona and shares some lingering glances at her.
    • Ramona as well, who often holds hands with Destiny and calls her "baby". She also tells Elizabeth that she has "amazing skin".
  • A Mistake Is Born: As noted during the 2008 recession, Destiny is clearly distraught when she learns she is pregnant with her then boyfriend Johnny's baby. Despite the pregnancy being unplanned, she grows to love and care for her daughter Lily.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Ramona asks one to Destiny leading to an equally Armor-Piercing Response.
  • Armor-Piercing Response: After making a deal to get less jail time, Destiny gives one to Ramona, leaving her at a loss for words (and considering they both have children).
    Ramona: Why would you do that?!
    Destiny: (in tears) ...For Lily!
  • Big Beautiful Woman: What happens when you have a stripper played by Lizzo?
  • Big Fancy House: Dorothy uses the money from drugging and robbing clients to buy a large house in a well-to-do suburb for her daughter and grandmother.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The main four dancers are caught for their schemes. Doug's life is still utterly ruined. Dorothy takes a deal to avoid jail time, which wrecks her friendship with Ramona after the latter tried to get a lawyer for them. The two of them get probation while Annabelle and Mercedes get probation plus weekends in jail for four months. However, the ending makes it clear that Ramona still cares for Dorothy, and Elizabeth encourages her to reach out to her friend.
  • Brainless Beauty: While most of the women avoid this, Roman's new recruit Dawn plays it painfully straight and predictably, ends up sinking the entire operation.
  • Call-Back:
    • Ramona buying Destiny a fur coat for Christmas brings to mind the scene when the two of them first met, with Ramona inviting Destiny to share her fur coat.
    • Early in the film, Ramona shows Destiny the denim swimwear she's been designing. Later, Mercedes is wearing a denim swimsuit while with a mark.
  • Caper Rationalization: Ramona rationalizes conning rich men to Destiny as them being Asshole Victims who already made dirty deals and cheated others out of money and got off scot-free for the financial crisis, so targeting them is just fair play. Dorothy has fully internalized this by the time she's being interviewed and justifies it as being desperate for money and the clients already taking drugs.
  • The Cast Show Off: Star the stripper, who enters singing opera, is played by Marcy Richardson, an actual opera-singing pole dancer.
  • Celebrity Cameo: Usher, who appears in the club during the 2007 flashbacks.
  • Cool Old Lady: Destiny's grandmother is revealed to be, when she casually lets slip that she once danced with Frankie Valli. The other girls all get along extremely well with her, particularly Ramona.
  • Criminal Found Family: Destiny, Ramona, Mercedes and Annabelle eventually come to see each as family, which is highlighted during the scene when they all spent Christmas together. Destiny's daughter even calls Ramona "Aunt Ramona".
  • Crocodile Tears: Destiny, crying and in hysterics, begs the paramedics to save her "husband" (a client who got badly injured while drugged out of his mind). The paramedics take him away; the second their backs are turned, Destiny coldly drops the act and drives off.
  • Cuteness Proximity: In one scene, Ramona starts fawning over another stripper's pet chihuahua, Mr. Bruce.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Dorothy's father left the family, her mother dropped her off at her grandparents' home and never came back, she grew up poor, dropped out of high school, and was alone most of the time. It's implied that Ramona was her First Friend.
  • Deggans' Rule: The protagonists are an Asian woman and a Latina, with an African-American in a prominent supporting role. The story has nothing to do with race, bar some implied subtext between Destiny and Elizabeth.
  • Did Not Get The Guy: Destiny has a falling out with her first boyfriend (the father of her daughter Lily) and fails to reconnect with the second guy she befriends at the club when he announces too much time has passed and he's already married.
  • Discreet Drink Disposal: Along with her two protégées, Mercedes and Annabelle, Ramona targets rich men at bars, gets them drunk, and then escorts them to Moves where the girls steal their credit card numbers and charge them to their limit. As part of getting the mark drunk, the girls pretend to match him drink for drink, but while one of them distracts him, the others tip out their drinks.
  • Do Wrong, Right: Destiny is entirely aware that what they are doing is highly illegal. That is why her main objection to Ramona's methods is that they shouldn't be bringing in girls who are addicts or have criminal records, as they are more likely to get them caught.
    Destiny: What we are doing is illegal. We can't be bringing in criminals!
  • Double Standard: Abuse, Female on Male:
    • The strippers are drugging and conning rich Wall Street men which is portrayed as empowering and inspiring. Deconstructed when one of the reasons they get away with it for so long is because all the men are too embarrassed to come forward with what happened to them so an investigation could be carried out. Once one or two does they're immediately cracked down upon.
    • Ultimately subverted; their final mark Doug is almost absurdly sympathetic, being a father of an autistic child going though a rough divorce (not to mention having his house gutted in a fire), and the fact that Ramona goes through with the con marks an obvious Moral Event Horizon.
  • Dying Alone: Dorothy's grandmother dies at home alone.
  • Equal-Opportunity Evil: The original gang of thieving strippers is remarkably diverse, including Hispanic, Asian, Caucasian and African American members. As it expands the new recruits are also from diverse backgrounds.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: "Evil" is way too strong a term, but Ramona is a very morally gray character. However, she dotes on her daughter, and cares deeply for her friends, especially Destiny. Even Destiny testifying against her wasn't enough to make her stop caring for her. Elizabeth outright encourages Destiny to call her at the end, since she can see that she misses her.
  • Everyone Has Standards:
    • Destiny and Annabelle both express misgivings about drugging people — scamming them is one thing, but slipping them roofies is another. Though they do both go through with it, Destiny is later horrified when the scam really hurts Doug, a genuine Nice Guy.
    • When a victim hurts himself and is knocked out, Destiny immediately brings him to the nearest hospital, which probably saved his life. She may be willing to rob him blind, but she's not going to let him die.
    • Few as Ramona's moral scruples are, she understands loyalty and family, and seems to disdain those that don't. She's a good and loving mother. She first takes Annabelle under her wing when she finds out her parents kicked her out. When Destiny's grandmother dies, she comes to the funeral, comforts her, and genuinely apologizes for not being there before when she needed her. She's initially furious that Destiny betrayed her, but backs down when she realizes she only did it to make sure she'd be there for her daughter. And her final scene shows that, in spite of everything, she really did love Destiny and still does — to the extent of carrying a picture of her in her wallet to this day, and ruefully wondering, "How could anyone abandon that baby?" when discussing her mother.
  • Evil Is One Big, Happy Family: "Evil" is too strong a term but all the women, despite their shady action, are genuinely very close and care deeply for one another like a family.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change:
    • Destiny has long hair with a fringe in the flashbacks, and shoulder length in the 2014-2015 portions.
    • Ramona's hair gets blonder as they begin their criminal activities.
  • Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: Thanks to the 2008 recession, Ramona and Mercedes end up working in retail for a Bad Boss who doesn't let the former switch shifts so she can pick her daughter up from school. Destiny meanwhile can't even get employed due to her past as a stripper.
  • Fan Disservice:
    • Early in the movie Destiny is seen aggressively dry-humping one of the club's customers. It is anything but sexy and it is rather Played for Laughs.
    • Played for Laughs and Played for Drama as one of the guys drugged by the girls passes out naked trying to dive into his swimming pool from his roof and he has to be taken to the hospital.
  • Fanservice: The female dancers in the club and Destiny and Ramona's dance duo scenes in the champagne room together.
  • Fatal Flaw: Ramona has three, and all of them cause her downfall: greed, arrogance, and a willingness to give unearned trust.
    • Her greed pushes her to use increasingly immoral and dangerous means in order to make money, not to mention conning Doug, one of the few genuinely good men shown in the story.
    • Her arrogance causes her to develop a cavalier attitude toward risk, which frequently puts the marks in danger, and leaves her completely blindsided once the police catch onto her scheme.
    • And finally, she trusts Dawn, an addict who Destiny, her own Number Two, immediately tells will be unreliable and untrustworthy, but ignores her concerns. Dawn inevitably betrays Ramona.
  • Faux Yay: The male customers frequently pay for this. Shipping lens notwithstanding, Destiny and Ramona find it tedious to perform.
  • Formally-Named Pet: One of the women Ramona and Destiny employ to work their scam has a pet chihuahua named Mister Bruce that travels everywhere with her in her handbag.
  • Framing Device: The first two acts are told as part of a recorded interview Dorothy is giving to a journalist. This is played with in the shift to the third act, where Destiny reaches a point where she's uncomfortable with a face to face interview and abruptly turns off the recorder. This mutes all audio for the scene until Elizabeth is shown out the door, coming back in when it closes.
  • French Jerk: A woman who turns Destiny down for a job over her lack of experience has a snobby French accent.
  • Four-Girl Ensemble: Annabelle is the childish one, Mercedes is the sophisticated one, Ramona is the sexy one, and Destiny is the girl next door.
  • Girl on Girl Is Hot: One of the reasons why the male customers give out more money whenever Ramona and Destiny dance together.
  • Good-Times Montage: The film features two:
    • The first is a flashback to 2007, which Destiny considers the best year of her life: she had lots of close friends and she was making money hand over fist off the Wall Street guys.
    • The second one is a montage of the girls enjoying the spoils of their thievery.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: The film treats the strippers and their victims as deserving of both criticism and sympathy. On the one hand, you have the bankers and customers whose behavior helped cause the recession and who are often presented as amoral, sleazy and occasionally borderline predatory but they still didn't deserve to be drugged and robbed and some were even dealing with their own issues. On the other hand, the women drug and rob men but it's shown they only did so after legitimately trying to find honest work but either being met with mistreatment or shut out entirely and feeling they had no other options and Ramona and Destiny had to take care of children while Annabelle had been completely disowned by her own family and this was further brought on by a global recession completely out of their control. Neither side is presented as completely good or evil.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Downplayed. Blonde Annabelle is hesitant to drug people, and overall comes off as extremely cheerful and friendly. Even though she does participate in the hustle, she never loses her sympathetic edge, and is also the "innocent" one of the group, at least at first.
  • History with Celebrity: Ramona's grandmother tells the story of how she once danced with Frankie Valli.
  • Honorary Uncle: Ramona becomes one to Destiny's daughter Lily and dotes on her like her own child.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Ramona fully trusts anyone she takes under her wing. Even Dawn, who Destiny immediately pegs as a liability.
  • Hypocrite: Destiny repeatedly complains about involving criminals and junkies in the hustle, which involves drugging men with a cocktail of ketamine and MDMA and robbing them blind.
  • I Have No Son!: Annabelle's parents kicked her out of the house when they found out she was a stripper.
  • Karma Houdini: The girls get off with surprisingly light punishment, considering their crimes (stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars over several years, endangering the lives of dozens of men by drugging them, and ruining the life of at least one innocent person). Destiny gets no jail time whatsoever, Ramona gets five years probation, and Annabelle and Mercedes get probation plus weekends in jail for four months.
  • The Load: Dawn, who is a drug addict and quite incompetent as well. Destiny predicts she'll end up messing up their operation.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: Dorothy's grandmother never questions where Dorothy got so much money, despite the fact that she goes from struggling to make ends meet to buying a huge, beautiful house in the suburbs in a very short amount of time.
  • Loose Lips: Dawn ends up revealing the truth to a client during a voicemail, and her confession is used by the police to arrest everyone involved.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: The male victim Mercedes is found with is completely naked, and there's a brief flash of his penis as they try to get him into the car.
  • Male Gaze: Since most of the film is set in a strip club, the strippers themselves were bound to fall under this trope a lot.
  • Mama Bear: Almost everything Destiny does for money (pole dancing, drugging, crime, etc.), she makes clear to Ramona she does it all to support her daughter Lily. Even taking a plea deal to avoid more jail time so she could be with her daughter.
  • Marshmallow Hell: In her introductory routine, Ramona rewards two big tippers this way.
  • Meta Casting: Cardi B., a former stripper, plays one of the dancers at Moves.
  • The Millstone: Dawn. Destiny faces a rough night when a lot of things go wrong (a client gets injured, Mercedes bails on her, her grandmother dies, Lily's babysitter leaves her with a neighbor), but Ramona can't help because she's too busy bailing Dawn out of jail.
  • Mister Muffykins: Ramona takes the time to Squee over one of their new girls' little chihuahuas in her purse.
  • Ms. Fanservice: The strippers in this film especially Ramona Vega who's played by Jennifer Lopez.
  • Moral Event Horizon: In-universe: The con on Doug, which ruined what little he still had, is one of the reasons Destiny finally turns on Ramona.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Despite having robbed tons of men by then, Dorothy starts feeling genuine guilt when Doug, a single father who's had a string of bad luck, calls her and begs for his money back because otherwise he can't afford to pay his mortgage.
  • No Periods, Period: Averted. Annabelle is introduced struggling with period cramps, and Ramona helps her with a tampon.
  • Old Maid: Ramona alludes to this, saying she and Destiny won't be able to dance forever, and had better make their money before they're too old to be strippers.
  • One-Steve Limit: Subverted. There's Elizabeth the journalist and Liz the stripper.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Mercedes' fiance is only referred to as Dragon, which is almost certainly not this man's real name.
  • Parental Abandonment: Destiny's father and later her mother left, never making contact with her again. Her ex-boyfriend also abandons their daughter after they have a huge fight.
  • Pretty in Mink: Ramona wears a nice fur coat shortly after her introduction, when she's smoking on the rooftop with Destiny. Later, she buys Destiny an expensive coat made of chinchilla fur.
  • Properly Paranoid: Dorothy quickly guesses that Dawn can't be trusted. Sure enough, Dawn eventually rats the rest of them out to the cops.
  • Racial Face Blindness: One of the customers in the club calls Destiny "Lucy Liu" at one point.
  • Raised by Grandparents: Dorothy was raised by her grandparents after her parents abandoned her. It's clear that she's extremely close to her grandmother. Dorothy is partly motivated by the desire to pay off her grandmother's debts and give her a nice life in her golden years.
  • Relatively Flimsy Excuse: Destiny, Ramona, Mercedes, and Annabelle pretend to be sisters during their scams even though they're all different races and look nothing alike. In at least one instance, they claim to be half-sisters with the same father and different mothers, making the story slightly more plausible.
  • "Rise and Fall" Gangster Arc: The film's entire premise is a young woman named Dorothy joining a gang of strippers who drug and rob Wall Street investors for money during the Great Recession of 2007-2008. The first half of the film shows Dorothy, Ramona Vega and their friends becoming rich and hosting a lavish Christmas party. The second half depicts their downfall due to Dawn accidentally revealing the strippers' scheme on phone to a client.
  • Satellite Love Interest: Johnny, who only exists to be the father of Dorothy's child. Dragon, who's legal expenses provide the motivation for Mercedes' actions.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: The Wall Street guys at the very top of the food chain, who get preferential treatment at the club and are basically allowed to get away with anything because they're loaded.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: When one of the marks gets injured and needs to be taken to the hospital, Mercedes panics and runs away from the hospital in just her bathing suit and heels.
  • Shout-Out: The Compartment Shot which shows Ramona and Destiny pulling a trayful of the MDMA/ketamine cocktail out of the oven is very reminiscent of the cook scenes in Breaking Bad.
  • Single Mom Stripper: Ramona, who strips to provide for her young daughter Julia. Destiny quit stripping after her daughter Lily was born but had difficulty supporting her after she breaks up with her babydaddy Johnny, and returns to the club after some time. Both women later move up to more lucrative and morally gray acts.
  • Sleek High Rise Apartment: Ramona lives in a gorgeous, all-white apartment on the Upper East Side, paid for by one of her clients.
  • Slipping a Mickey: The girls start out by getting their marks too drunk to object, but escalate to drugging their drinks because it's more reliable.
  • Slobs Versus Snobs: Destiny takes the time to examine this between herself and Elizabeth. She was abandoned by her mother, dropped out of school and resorted to crime to pay off her grandmother's debts. Elizabeth meanwhile had two married, working parents in prestigious jobs and went to an Ivy League school.
  • Slowly Slipping Into Evil: Destiny emphasizes that they only pick targets that they know have the money and won't have any extreme reactions to the drugs. She also emphasizes that they don't hire any junkies or criminals. But Ramona's expansion on their operation leads to all those rules getting broken.
  • Slut-Shaming: Even at their height of their success, the strippers have to deal with the stigma around their line of work. Destiny doesn't even bother reporting it when a client offers her several hundred dollars for a blowjob, and then cons her and only gives her about $40 — which fits the definition of rape by deception — because she knows that most people either wouldn't consider that assault, or they'd think she had it coming. (Elizabeth, fortunately, seems genuinely horrified and sympathetic when she hears this.) Poor Annabelle, meanwhile, was kicked out of her house because her parents found out she was working as a stripper, leaving her with no place to go.
  • Soul-Sucking Retail Job: Ramona is stuck in one after the recession, where her boss won't even allow her to leave early on Friday so she can pick her daughter up from school (even offering to get another worker to cover her shift).
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: "Royals" by Lorde plays as Ramona gets arrested by the ATM and the rest of the girls get caught by the police
    • Next, an intense spoken-word piece about dehumanizing sexual experiences in the army, plays during a scene where Ramona and Destiny are dancing together for a client, lending it a very Fan Disservice vibe.
  • Stress Vomit: Any time Annabelle gets stressed out, she vomits right then and there. She does this so often that it becomes a Running Gag, with the other girls even thinking at one point that she does it on purpose.
  • Supporting Protagonist: While Destiny is the primary viewpoint character, the story is very much about Ramona and her building a scam operation.
  • Support Your Parents: Dorothy drugs and robs wealthy men at the strip club she works in partly to provide for her grandmother, who raised her after she was abandoned by her parents. She pays off her grandmother's debts, moves their family into a beautiful mansion, and gifts her expensive jewelry for Christmas.
  • Tempting Fate: Upon learning of her pregnancy, Dorothy says she hopes she has a boy. The next scene begins with a close-up of her daughter's face.
  • The Oner: Several, beginning with the opening of Destiny walking through the club.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: For some reason, the NYPD considers that arresting a single stripper turned thief/con-artist requires 2 detectives, 8 uniformed cops and several squad cars. And they do this with each of the girls.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: The story details how a group of strippers organized into a con job of spiking the drinks of marks at the bar and taking them back to the club to fleece their money. After this is first explained to Elizabeth she noticeably hesitates to drink a cup of tea Dorothy had freshly brewed for her.
  • Team Mom: Ramona seems to consider herself this, and is, to some extent. She genuinely looks out for everyone on her crew and seems to consider herself responsible for their well-being, and makes an effort to look out for new dancers at the club. In Annabelle's first scene, she finds her crying and comforts her, asking her what's wrong and offering her a tampon when she finds out she's on her period. She's also extremely sympathetic when she finds out Annabelle's parents kicked her out, and offers to help her.
  • Title Drop: There are several references to "hustlers" and "hustling" in the film.
  • Token White: Annabelle is the only white member of the gang, and the most prominent white protagonist (if one ignores Elizabeth the journalist).
  • Vague Age: Ramona is played by the fifty-year-old Jennifer Lopez, but the actress is Older Than They Look, and Ramona's stories and motherly attitude towards the girls suggests that she is somewhere between her thirties and forties.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The film is inspired by an article that details a true story of strippers who stole from rich Wall Street types with each of the characters' names being changed from their real-life counterparts and some events in the story are heavily dramatized for the sake of the story.
  • Villain Protagonist: Downplayed. The strippers aren't villainous per se but they do drug and rob men.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Whenever Annabelle vomits, she does it in full view of the camera and right on top of whatever or whoever happens to be in front of her.
  • What Does She See in Him?: Ramona questions Mercedes' decision to stay with Dragon even though he's in prison.
  • Wham Line: Destiny to the reporter about Ramona:
    Destiny: When did you talk to her? How much did she say about me?
    • Destiny to Ramona outside the police station:
    Destiny: I took the deal.
    • Ramona to the reporter:
    Ramona: (showing a photo of a young Destiny) Her name was Dorothy.