Hustlers (2019 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Lorene Scafaria|
|Screenplay by||Lorene Scafaria|
|Based on||"The Hustlers at Scores"|
by Jessica Pressler
|Edited by||Kayla Emter|
|Box office||$13.1 million|
Hustlers is a 2019 American crime drama film written and directed by Lorene Scafaria, based on New York magazine's 2015 article "The Hustlers at Scores" by Jessica Pressler. The film stars Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Lizzo, and Cardi B. The plot follows a crew of strippers in New York City who begin to embezzle money by drugging stock traders and CEOs who visit their club. Lopez is also a producer on the film through Nuyorican Productions, alongside Jessica Elbaum, Will Ferrell, and Adam McKay through their Gloria Sanchez banner.
First announced in February 2016, the film was originally supposed to be financed and distributed by Annapurna Pictures. However following the company's financial issues, they dropped the rights in October 2018 and STX Entertainment picked them up. Much of the cast joined that fall through the following spring, and filming took place in New York City from March to May 2019.
Hustlers had its world premiere on September 7, 2019, at the Toronto International Film Festival, and was theatrically released in the United States on September 13, 2019, by STXfilms. The film received positive reviews from critics, with high praise for Lopez's career-best performance.
Former New York City-based stripper Dorothy is invited for an interview with Elizabeth, a journalist working on a story involving her old friend and mentor, Ramona Vega.
In 2007, Dorothy, known by her stripper name as Destiny, is working at a strip club to support her grandmother but is continually frustrated by her inability to attract paying clients. After watching Ramona's very popular performance, Dorothy goes to meet with Ramona and they hit it off, with Ramona taking Destiny under her wing and teaching her how to recognize the three different types of customers. The first type are insecure men who don't spend much but can be strung along for weeks or even months, and the second type are regulars that visit the club frequently. The third type includes the CEOs, bankers, and hedge funders ready to spend thousands for a good night. Together, the two form a formidable team, with Dorothy using her newly acquired increased wealth to purchase her own apartment and feed her shopping addiction.
A year later, the financial crisis strikes, and both Dorothy and Ramona find themselves without enough clients to support their lifestyles. Dorothy's boyfriend abandons her and their infant daughter, and she is unable to find a new job due to her lack of experience.
With no other options, Dorothy goes back to stripping only to find that her old club is now populated by customers who demand sex, a line she is unwilling to cross. Ramona then introduces her to a scheme involving her two protegées, Mercedes and Annabelle: targeting rich men at bars, getting them drunk, and then escorting them to the club where the girls steal their credit card numbers and charge them to their limit. Dorothy joins in, and learns that Ramona has also been experimenting with a potentially lethal concoction of ketamine and MDMA designed to induce memory loss while also impairing their judgment and sense of restraint.
Dorothy argues that while drugging the men may be unpleasant, none of their victims will be able to endure the shame and humiliation of having to admit to being robbed by strippers, and so they won't ever have to worry about the police getting involved. The scheme is a success at first, but when some of the targets prove to be too aggressive and demanding for Mercedes and Annabelle to handle, Dorothy suggests bringing in other girls, who are carefully trained to avoid drinking or using drugs.
Ramona's partnership with the club allows the group to maximize their profits since the owners are desperate for customers, and for once in her life, Dorothy feels secure. However, cracks start to show in their operation. Other strippers start copying them, and a furious Ramona cuts her business ties with the club, deciding that the group shouldn't have to split their earnings when they can just service their clients in hotel rooms or their own homes.
The girls become increasingly unreliable, so Ramona starts bringing in strippers with drug problems and/or prior convictions to replace them, something Dorothy feels is extremely risky. Dorothy's fears prove true when a client nearly dies and she is forced to take him to the hospital herself while Ramona bails out one of her girls, Dawn, from jail. When Dorothy returns home later that day, she finds her grandmother has died. At her funeral, Ramona promises to take care of her from now on.
In 2014, Dorothy becomes uncomfortable when Elizabeth insists on talking about Ramona and stops the interview, telling her to leave. When Elizabeth returns home, Dorothy calls her and agrees to finish their conversation. Ramona's callousness drives a wedge between her and Dorothy, who finds that she can no longer justify her crimes. Dawn is picked up by the police and rats on her partners, while investigators manage to locate several victims and identify all of the girls. Destiny, Ramona, Annabelle, and Mercedes are arrested, but only Dorothy winds up taking a plea deal. Ramona manages to avoid jail time, while the others serve short sentences before being released on probation.
In 2015, Elizabeth goes to see Ramona, who is now working a retail job, and she muses that Destiny was the only person she trusted to have her back, revealing a picture of her friend that she secretly kept along with her most valued possessions. The article is published, and Elizabeth encourages Dorothy to reach out to Ramona and make amends.
- Constance Wu as Dorothy / Destiny, a single mother who takes up stripping to support her family.
- Jennifer Lopez as Ramona Vega, a veteran stripper who mentors Destiny. In contrast to Dorothy, Ramona cares little about the men she steals from, and lacks the business acumen of her partner.
- Julia Stiles as Elizabeth, a journalist writing an article describing the scam.
- Keke Palmer as Mercedes, a stripper and one of Ramona's associates. Her boyfriend is incarcerated, and so she often has to pay his legal fees.
- Lili Reinhart as Annabelle, a stripper and one of Ramona's associates, who suffers from a weak stomach that causes her to involuntarily vomit when stressed.
- Lizzo as Liz, a stripper who formerly worked at the club.
- Cardi B as Diamond, Ramona and Dorothy's friend.
- Mercedes Ruehl as Mama, the club's den mother who Ramona enlists to train the girls.
- Trace Lysette as Tracey
- Usher as himself
- Mette Towley as Justice
- Madeline Brewer as Dawn, a drug-addicted stripper hired by Ramona to replace Annabelle.
- Stormi Maya as Angel
- Frank Whaley as Reese
- Brandon Keener as Alpha
- Steven Boyer as Doug
- Jon Glaser as Mark
- Paul A Nielsen as Detective Hunter
- Kersti Bryan as Amy
- Devin Ratray as Stephen, one of Dorothy's old clients.
- Jovanni Ortiz as Joe
- Rhys Coiro as Spencer
In February 2016, it was announced Jessica Elbaum, Will Ferrell and Adam McKay would produce the film, under their Gloria Sanchez Productions banner. In May 2016, Annapurna Pictures was announced to produce, finance, and distribute the film, with Megan Ellison and Chelsea Barnard serving as producers on the film. Jennifer Lopez is a co-producer of Hustlers through Nuyorican Productions.
In August 2018, it was announced that Jennifer Lopez would star in Hustlers, with Lorene Scafaria directing from a screenplay she wrote. In October 2018, it was announced Annapurna had dropped the film, with STX Entertainment acquiring distribution rights to the film and Constance Wu joining the cast. Annapurna allegedly dropped the film due to budget concerns. In March 2019, Cardi B, Lili Reinhart, Keke Palmer, Julia Stiles, and Mercedes Ruehl joined the cast with Mette Towley and Trace Lysette in negotiations to join as well. That same month, Madeline Brewer and Frank Whaley joined the cast of the film. Lizzo joined the cast of the film in April 2019, and Usher joined the cast in May.
Principal photography for Hustlers began on March 22, 2019 in New York City, with the shoot lasting 29 days. Final production wrapped on May 3. According to producer Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, the production budget for the film was $20.7 million.
Jennifer Lopez, who plays veteran stripper Ramona Vega in the film, began pole dance training with professional dancer and choreographer Johanna Sapakie two-and-a-half months before filming in preparation for a scene that has Lopez performing a major solo pole dance routine without a professional stand-in. In addition to Lopez, Sapakie also trained Constance Wu, Lili Reinhart, and Keke Palmer in pole dancing.
Hustlers costume designer, Mitchell Travers, defined the origins of the film's costume design and treatment in an interview with Vanity Fair magazine, stating that "I knew it [had] to absolutely floor the audience, and let them know that this is not going to be like any movie that they've seen before." Travers designed the costumes for Lopez to showcase the strength and muscle tone that Lopez amassed during her pre-Hustlers training. Without running afoul of the film's planned R rating, he dreamed up the diamond bodysuit that was essentially connected by three straps. Travers noted that “We did a lot of research and development to find something that could [stretch in every direction during Lopez's dance]. It's performance wear, and really had to work for that sequence. We did a number of fittings on it. It is tailored within an inch of its life, completely custom for her.”
The music soundtrack for Hustlers features a list of songs ranging from late 1990s R&b anthems, Dance Club Songs, Indie pop, to classical interludes. From the selection of Janet Jackson, Fiona Apple, Britney Spears, and Lorde, the music beats at the heart of the film. As the film's writer-directer Lorene Scafaria explained, "I thought of [the film] as a musical — the songs themselves were telling a story. Most of the music choices were also written into the script, I had obviously imagined scenes to these songs, and we shot to these songs, but you never know if you're going to get the rights." The film's music supervisor, Jason Markey, got artists from Big Sean to Bob Seger to sign-off permission to include their songs in the Hustlers soundtrack; however, the film deliberately does not feature any songs from the catalogs of Jennifer Lopez, Cardi B, or Lizzo. Markey noted that, "We didn't have a score, either; every song made a statement about the scene." (Case in point: “Hustlers” opens with the voice of Janet Jackson, not Jennifer Lopez, whispering: "This is a story about control.").
In the United States and Canada, Hustlers was released alongside The Goldfinch, and is projected to gross $25–30 million from 3,250 theaters in its opening weekend. The film made $13.1 million on its first day, including $2.5 million in Thursday night previews. It was the biggest single day gross in STX Entertainment's history.
On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 87% based on 172 reviews, with an average rating of 7.48/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "Led by a career-best performance from Jennifer Lopez, Hustlers is a uniquely empowering heist drama with depth and intelligence to match its striking visual appeal." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 80 out of 100, based on 39 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B–" on an A+ to F scale, while those at PostTrak gave it an average 3.5 out of 5 stars and a 50% "definite recommend".
Roger Ebert 's Christy Lemire rated the film 3 stars, describing Hustlers as "Goodfellas in a G-string, but Scafaria’s film is always a blast to watch, resulting in a surprising level of emotional depth." The audience is "...seeing Lopez's best screen work since her early heyday of Selena and Out of Sight. Still, it's hard to discern completely between Lopez the superstar and the larger-than-life character she plays in Hustlers, and that’s actually part of the pleasure of watching this career-best performance from the multi-talented multi-hyphenate. We know this figure—we know the swagger, the magnetism, the incandescent ability to work an audience—and yet, Lopez has repurposed and repackaged all her well-honed abilities here as a reminder that before she was known as J.Lo, she was a naturally gifted actress. “Hustlers” as a whole is a blast, stomping and striding with the confidence of Lopez’s thrilling introduction."
Kate Erbland of IndieWire rated Hustlers an A- and describes the film as "funny, empowering, sexy, emotional, and a bit scary. The Oscar chatter for Lopez's revelatory, nuanced, and emotional turn as a brilliant con artist and better exotic dancer is no joke." Variety's Peter DeBruge writes, "flashy, fleshy and all-around impossible to ignore, Hustlers amounts to nothing less than a cultural moment, inspired by an outrageous New York Magazine profile... adapted by writer-director Scafaria at her most Scorsese, and starring Jennifer Lopez like you've never seen her before."
Justin Chang, writing for the Los Angeles Times, describes the film as "brassy and invigorating" stating that "Scafaria's clear-eyed grasp of that distinction that makes Hustlers more than just a girls-gone-wild cautionary tale, a peekaboo parade or a hypocritical amalgam of the two. The movie's empathy for its leads and its wholly justified rage against the architects of financial collapse is held in check by the knowledge that every hustle has its collateral damage."
The Guardian's Benjamin Lee, rated the film 4 out of 5 stars, stating that "even when films have focused on strippers as something other than window dressing, they've still been written and directed by men and have smoothed over rougher edges, turning them all into titillating one-note archetypes. Instead, Scafaria views the strip club like any other workplace, filled with internal politics and an ever-changing hierarchy of power." Also reviewing Hustlers for The Guardian, Simran Hans writes, "Brilliantly, though, the editing is teasing rather than explicit; Scafaria offers just enough of the girls and their bodies to get pulses racing without exploiting them or their story."
Beandrea July of The Hollywood Reporter stated that, "Hustlers delivers on its hype while consistently doing the unexpected. Scafaria, whose last pic was the Susan Sarandon vehicle The Meddler (2015), excels at immersing the audience in the world of sex-work in clubs, quietly disabusing us scene by scene of any stereotypes about who these women are. Part workplace dramedy, part revenge fantasy, the film weaves together a series of satisfying, organic-feeling turns."
Emily Todd VanDerWerff of Vox writes "...as you're distracted by all that razzle-dazzle and the movie's many, many great jokes, Hustlers is quietly composing some deeply profound thoughts about the relationships women build with each other. These ideas percolate in the background of the film and only reach a full boil in its final act. Scafaria prefers a light touch to anything that might overpower the momentum." Brennan Carley of GQ Magazine called the film the best movie of 2019 to date, and writes "...starting with a bang is one thing, though; maintaining that energy throughout its entire run-time is what makes this strippers-turned-criminals flick such a masterful feat."
Rolling Stone's film critic, Peter Travers, rated the film 4 out of 5 stars, stating that, "Hustlers doesn't pussyfoot about what goes on in those "champagne rooms" off stage. The intent is not to exploit but to show how women manage to live and work in a predatory man's world. The question is control. And in Scafaria's fiercely funny provocation of a film — there's no running from the shadows — it's the women who seize control. All together now — it's about time. Hustlers promises and delivers a party-hard, wild ride. In Hustlers, [Lopez's] talent blossoms into something that takes your breath away. Even better, this time the movie is worthy of her talent."
- Exotic dance
- Pole dance
- Lap dancing
- Gentleman's club
- American burlesque
- Films set in New York City
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