In the United States, more than I have found in other countries, there is a hypocritical, puritanical approach by many men who find sex via teasing exciting as a substitute for the real thing. The Playboy Club phenomenon was one example. The strip shows and strip clubs have been other examples. Guys have been fleeced in bars even when as an alternative prostitutes were readily available, as on line today, at flat rates known in advance. Results of the big tease are dramatized in the new film “Hustlers,” written and directed by Lorene Scafaria and based on a New York Magazine article by Jessica Pressler.
The film mainly tunes into the lives of Destiny (Constance Wu) and Ramona (Jennifer Lopez), who in 2007 work in a strip club. Ramona takes the beginner Destiny under her wing and teaches her the art of provocative pole dancing, and the film luxuriates in scenes of scantily clad women strutting their stuff before sex-hungry men who toss increasing amounts of bills on stage in response to the step-by-step disrobing, body-wiggling and bust exposure. Occasionally there may be oral sex in a back room. The women resent cuts into their hard-work earnings taken by management.
The unfolding story gives us a human portrait of the women struggling to make a living. Destiny supports a grandmother whom she loves. Ramona is bent on creating a life of luxury. She is very controlling, which ultimately leads to resentment on the part of Destiny.
The film escalates when Ramona, justifying her behavior on contempt for men whom she feels are fleecing the public as they earn money on Wall Street and elsewhere, concocts a scheme by which she and accomplices will lure men to a strip joint and spike their drinks. When the victims are drunk, the women will steal their credit cards and run up huge tabs on them. At first, they get away with it because the married men can’t admit to what they were up to when robbed. Inevitably, one bravely blows the whistle and the women are arrested and criminally charged. The plot structure involves Destiny being interviewed by Julia Stiles as a fictionalized version of the magazine article author.
What does the film add up to? More flesh than insight. The women are dazzling to look at, and Lopez gives a dynamic portrayal as a savvy but manipulative sexual force. Wu has her appeal as one who is shy at first but with newly educated know-how joins the conspiracy and becomes jealous when Ramona fixes attention on another. The film does offer somewhat of a look into this world of sexploitation, both of the women and the men they hoodwink. But it is difficult to become vary emotionally involved with the characters. Yet the film does emerge as a colorful eyeful. A Stix Films release. Reviewed September 13, 2019.