Hustlers (2019) by Lorene Scafaria
Review by Miranda Barnewall
I realized that about halfway through Hustlers that even in the movies you can’t avoid the still seething anger that began after the crash of 2008. The date “September 29, 2008” appears in white font against a black screen, then archival footage of Brian Williams appears and tells the audience what they’ve known and lived the consequences of for eleven years.
Me? On September 29, 2008, I remember sitting on the couch in front of the television at my Dad’s house when the crash happened. However, at fourteen, I couldn’t understand with what this crash actually meant. Skip to 2019 and I now know full well how that crash impacted my life and countless others’ lives.
And, yeah, I’m angry.
So, IMDb 1-Star reviewers, please allow me to escape into a world where women rip off the men responsible for that crash that devastated so many for 110 minutes and enjoy it.
In the opening fifteen minutes of the film, we follow a new stripper, Destiny, and see the repetitive, tiring nature of the job. There is nothing sexy about dancing for multiple men in one night. Then cue Romona’s pole dance to Fiona Apple’s “Criminal.” We get full shots of Romona swinging around the pole and lying on the floor in seeming ecstasy as the money flies in the air. Seeing Romona and the money she makes changes the game for Destiny. After dancing, Romona walks by Destiny and asks, “Doesn’t money make you horny?”
What does money buy for these women? It does buy the things you might expect: multiple shopping sprees with your friends, blasting Brittney Spears in your new Cadillac Escalade, and finally getting your own apartment. But it also buys security, comfort, and opportunity. It means supporting your grandmother who raised you and ensuring that your daughter has the ability to do whatever she wants. It ultimately buys power over your own life.
Destiny tells Romona she never wants to be dependent on someone, she wants to be able to do it on her own without anyone’s help. This statement made me wonder — are we ever truly independent?
While Destiny is talking about having a boyfriend or husband to help support her financially, throughout the movie we see that the women are still dependent on men to make their living, that is, the men who visit the club. But I don’t think that statement is simply limited to the monetary side of life. The movie suggests that we can’t get through tough times alone, we can’t do it without our best friends or family members.
Once Ramona starts teaching Destiny how to dance, they quickly become friends. The honest depiction of female friendships and relationships is one of the refreshing strengths that I found with this movie, and something achieved by Lorene Scarfia’s script and direction. As a voice over of Density tells Elizabeth about befriending Ramona, there is a medium shot, oozing with everything 2007 (think rose tinted glasses, hoop earrings, clear lip gloss), of Destiny and Ramona driving in a car while the audience hears classical music playing in the background. It’s a clear shift from the poppy, top hits music heard in the club. The non-diegetic classical music in moments like this indicates that this is an intimate moment, and one only known between the two of them. It was in scenes like this – because there are a few – that made me smile a sort of dopey smile. Who doesn’t like seeing little love letters to these precious, secret moments with your friends?
Friendship breakups in many ways can be worse than romantic breakups. The effects of the breakup somehow seem longer lasting. Perhaps it’s because this was someone you spent hours with, whether it be at work or sitting at your place doing nothing. The cause of the breakup varies, but regardless there is something that wiggles its way into that relationship and threatens its current course. For Ramona and Destiny’s relationship, it’s Ramona’s greed. The consequences of that greed leave Destiny to grapple with what their friendship meant or if it was even real. Even when Romona and Destiny are not talking, Destiny doesn’t give a one layered, “Well, she’s a manipulative liar and used me” line to Elizabeth. There is a detectable trace of extreme pain and hurt under those words. The audience accompanies Destiny in processing her grief and her relationship with Ramona. By the end, we are left to wonder what Destiny will choose to do: does she reach out to Romana, or will she continue on in a new path in life without her?
I never saw the trailer for Hustlers, so I don’t know what it promised to the audience, but by word of mouth, I heard it was a, “women take revenge on men” story. Hustlers is not just a movie about women taking revenge on Wall Street bankers. It is equally, or arguably more so, about the highs and lows, and intimate and public moments of female friendships. While I am still angry about the effects of the 2008 crash and simply the world that we’re living in today, I can tell you I would not have been able to make it without the support of my girlfriends.