But in 2008, the financial crisis started to affect the club’s clientele, which also meant a decline in the dancers’ pay. Hustlers shows how an all-out class war ensued, with a group of four stripper friends (played by Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Keke Palmer, and Lili Reinhart) targeting their rolodex of wealthy clients, drugging them with a cocktail of liquor, ketamine, and MDMA, and guiding them to a club where the women had negotiated a percentage of their spending. Once there, the women would easily persuade their drunken victims to hand over their credit cards, racking up thousands of dollars in expenses.
Throughout Hustlers, we flip back and forth between the past and present, with Destiny (Constance Wu) recounting the events that led to the friends’ organized crime ring to journalist Jessica Pressler (Julia Stiles). In 2007, new dancer Destiny gets some pointers from Ramona (Jennifer Lopez), a veteran dancer with lots of regulars and industry knowledge. The two begin working together in the private lap dance room to increase their pay before things get out of hand—and increasingly dark.
With appearances from rapper/former exotic dancer Cardi B and twerk-tastic musical sensation Lizzo (both of whom essentially play fictionalized versions of themselves), Hustlers is endlessly funny, sexy and lively. It’s satisfying when Lizzo bursts into the dancers’ dressing room and announces “Bitch, Usher is here!” Obviously—because it’s “mutherfucking Usher, bitch!”—all the dancers simply must take the stage and make it clap one time for the R&B superstar. (This cameo is pretty much required for any modern film about New York strip clubs.)
The movie’s soundtrack is loaded with songs that're perfect for a stripper flick, including Usher’s “Love in this Club,” “Gimme More” by Britney Spears, and Janet Jackson’s “Miss You Much.” And when J.Lo makes her dramatic entrance via an epic pole dance to Fiona Apple’s “Bad Criminal,” it triggers flashbacks of her Flashdance-inspired music video “I’m Glad” that I didn’t know I needed.
But ultimately, Hustlers is solid because the strippers are uniquely portrayed as real women with full lives, and as mothers with real problems. Aside from their victims and maybe a club security guard, there are no male characters in this movie, and no romantic plots to speak of; while the film’s coming out in September, the vibe of the movie is definitely aligned with #hotgirlsummer.
Plus, let’s be honest: It’s just fun to watch these Wall Street pervs get taken advantage of for their money—at least for a while. But it’s the friendship between Ramona and Destiny that makes Hustlers work all the way through, and be surprisingly poignant from start to finish.