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Movie Review

Ramona can make a man empty his wallet with just one slide down a poll. And that's a skill coveted by her fellow stripper, Destiny.

Destiny is just trying to make a living to support her beloved grandmother and find the financial freedom and independence she’s always craved. Sure, she could work in retail or at some chain restaurant, but that’s not where the money is. The money is at the strip clubs.

One day, Destiny asks Ramona to teach her everything she knows, an offer Ramona gladly accepts. And pretty soon Ramona and Destiny become a seductive duo that no man visiting their club is able to resist. As their allure increases, so does the size of their wallets.

Until the stock market crash of 2008, that is.

Soon, Ramona and Destiny find themselves even more desperate than they were before with no money and no outside experience to their names. So they take things into their own hands.

This time they’re not going to go back to dollar bills and stripping. Instead, they plan to use their sexual prowess, their manipulative skills and laced drinks to lure the men of Wall Street into maxing out their credit cards and paving the way for their luxurious lifestyles.

But what happens in the dark always comes to light.

Positive Elements

Destiny’s main goal is to provide for her elderly grandmother, who raised her most of Destiny's life. Destiny pays off all of her grandmothers’ debt, gives her expensive jewelry and vows to protect her. Similarly, when Destiny’s daughter is born, the new mother works to provide a good life for her daughter (at least, a better life than she had ever known).

Ramona is similar to Destiny in that she works to make sure her daughter has a good, stable life. She says she wants to be able to pay for her daughter’s college education along with any other amenities her daughter might need. Ramona also protects Destiny and takes her under her wing, encouraging her to go back to school and to seek independence.

Both women are willing to sacrifice for those they love (even if some of their immoral and illegal strategies for providing that care aren't praiseworthy). Ramona refers to this tendency as “motherhood as a mental illness.” Their parental provision is even further tested when the economy crashes in 2008. Both women seek employment elsewhere and go through multiple interviews, only to be turned down by employers who criticize them for their lack of experience.

Ramona, Destiny and their group of friends exchange gifts during Christmas and value one another almost like a pseudo-family.

[Spoiler Warning] Destiny demonstrates remorse for her actions by film's end. She and Ramona wish they would have met earlier in life and helped each other to avoid so many costly mistakes.

Spiritual Content

Ramona, Destiny and their group of friends pray at Christmas dinner, thanking God for their blessings. Ramona says that an elderly woman is her “spirit animal.”

Sexual Content

Ramona, a seasoned stripper, puts on a provocative, revealing show in which she works a poll and dances (the camera pans in on her rear, her cleavage and every other part of her body). Men touch her rear and place dollar bills in her g-string thong. Ramona also grabs men faces and shoves them between her (barely clad) breasts during her performance.

After one of Ramona’s sultry performances, Destiny asks Ramona to coach her on how to make money by dancing and seducing men as she does. Once, Ramona and a friend show Destiny how to give a lap dance. In a few scenes, Ramona and Destiny dance together for male clients in a private room. One provocative scene implies that Destiny is completely unclothed, though creative camera work carefully avoids frontal nudity.

In a particularly degrading scene, Destiny returns to dancing for money and agrees to perform oral sex (implied but offscreen) on a man who cheats her out of money. Other exotic dancers grind on top of men during lap dances.

Women wear all sorts of revealing lingerie and outfits. We see cleavage, topless women, women sporting pasties and completely bare rears as they dance on polls and perform for men. We hear that a group of Russian dancers perform oral sex for a certain sum of money.

Dialogue references masturbation, various sex acts, sex toys, and dealing with menstruation as a stripper. Women flirt with and fondle one another. A high-level business executive watches porn in his office and makes his female secretary watch with him (we see two scantily-clad women and a man prepare to engage in a threesome).

A naked man, whose body we see completely from the front, is drugged so heavily that he unknowingly jumps from a roof onto pavement below …

Violent Content

… and Destiny and a few others drag the unconscious man with a bleeding head into a car and rush him to the hospital. Destiny has dried blood on her head and shirt afterward.

Ramona talks about private rooms within strip clubs where cameras are banned and men are allowed to be violent and aggressive with no consequences. One man is physically aggressive with a young female dancer.

A woman finds a loved one dead on a chair. Destiny has a reoccurring nightmare that she is trapped in a moving car that always crashes.

Crude or Profane Language

God’s name is misused about 10 times, occasionally paired with “d--n.” Jesus name is abused twice. The f-word is heard about 60 times, the s-word five times. Other profanities include multiple utterances of “b--ch,” as well as one or two uses each of “h---,” “a--,” “d--n” and “n-gga.”

Men and women alike use crude slang to describe male and female genitalia. Men are called “douchebags.”

Drug and Alcohol Content

Ramona encourages fellow strippers to seduce men, get them drunk and then trick them into spending excessive amounts of money on the strippers. When some men begin to catch on, the women take their plan to a new, more illegal level. Ramona and Destiny, along with some of their friends and coworkers, concoct a mixture of various substances to drug unsuspecting men, allowing the men to enjoy their night while wiping their memory. A few scenes show Ramona and Destiny creating and perfecting the substance in Ramona’s home. The women test the drugs out and are seen knocked out on the floor.

Night after night, Ramona, Destiny and their gang of hustlers to seduce men, drug their drinks and take them to strip clubs where the men max out their credit cards and, conveniently, can't remember anything the next day. One man is drugged so heavily that he passes out. Another is nearly killed.

A man asks a woman if she’d like cocaine. Similarly, a male customer offers Destiny cocaine to numb her senses before a crude act. Various women are referred to as junkies as they snort cocaine and discuss their drug use.

Men and women consume hard liquor, champagne, wine, shots of hard liquor and mixed drinks. Men smoke cigars and some women smoke cigarettes.

Other Negative Elements

Destiny and Ramona are very strategic when it comes to targeting men whom they feel might be vulnerable. Similarly, the women discuss the kind of men who make the best clients (divorced men, isolated men and power-hungry men). Ramona often rationalizes exploiting men as being acceptable because she says these men will spend their money at a strip club one way or another.

Destiny and her boyfriend argue in front of their baby girl who sits on the floor crying. We learn that Destiny’s father died when she was a child and that her mother abandoned her, leaving Destiny to be raised by her grandparents. Ramona also speaks of very inappropriate things around her young daughter.

Men and women alike lie, cheat and steal. Parents kick a young daughter out when she begins stripping. Anabelle, a female dancer, vomits every time she is anxious or is placed in a difficult situation.

Conclusion

“This whole country is a strip club: you got people tossing the money and people doing the dance.”

That's what Ramona tells a curious journalist on the lookout for her next big story. In a way, she's right: We live in a world in which money is often worshipped as a god. And that god can never fulfill what we truly need, no matter how much of it we accrue.

That's where the title of the film itself comes in. Hustlers uses its strip-club setting to show how the love of money, combined with out-of-control lust, can turn people's lives into a broken, distorted mess.

The movie itself doesn't condemn dancing for money. But it does show us that Ramona and Destiny, in particular, would rather be conducting their illegal "business" than spending time on display on the pole. We also see the desperation that drives both women to provide for their families, as well as their fear when it looks as if they'll have to return to stripping. In this sense, the film doesn't really glorify stripping so much as it shows us why some women feel they have no choice but to pursue this kind of sex work.

But these women's workplace, ultimately, is one where exploitation happens in both directions. Men, obviously, exploit these strippers. And eventually, a small group of dancers cooks up a scheme to exploit their patrons in increasingly risky, illegal ways in return.

And where you have so much exploitation, you have explicit content. And so it is with this R-rated film. Women dance, barely clad and occasionally topless, in scene after scene. Language problems are pervasive. Drugs are purchased and used to knock out unsuspecting victims. Greed and lust rule both men and women here.

Hustlers obviously isn't a family friendly movie. Nor is it a friendly one. And for anyone who thinks this film holds a message of women's empowerment, the website endsexualexploitation.org reminds us that being a stripper is anything but empowering. Instead, it's a painful, damaging consequence of life in a broken world, brokenness that Jesus gave His life to redeem and restore.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Genre

Drama

Author

Cast

Jennifer Lopez as Ramona; Constance Wu as Destiny; Julia Stiles as Elizabeth; Mette Towley as Justice; Wai Ching Ho as Destiny's Grandmother; Emma Batiz as 12-Year-Old Juliet; Keke Palmer as Mercedes; Mercedes Ruehl as Mother; Lili Reinhart as Annabelle; Cardi B as Diamond; Lizzo as Liz; Frank Whaley as Reese; Madeline Brewer as Dawn

Director

Lorene Scafaria ( )

Distributor

STX Entertainment

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

September 13, 2019

On Video

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Kristin Smith

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults
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This Plugged In review contains information about graphic sexual or violent content. It is not suitable for all ages. Reader discretion is advised.
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