America has an interesting relationship with its 4000 Gentleman’s Clubs.
Between #MeToo and the religious right, it’s a wonder that states haven’t begun banning strip clubs. I guess it is a good thing that liberals and conservatives won’t work together even when they’re on the same side.
One thing strip clubs have going for them is that most people don’t know what happens in there. The vast majority of women won’t work there and a solid majority of men don’t feel comfortable going there unless it’s part of somebody’s bachelor party.
Men who go to strip clubs face virtually no social stigma. I am not worried that you are going to boycott my column in shock and rage now that you know that I’ve been to a few strip clubs.
Women who work there, however, are judged by society. Even a wise man like Chris Rock determined that the primary job of a father is to keep his daughter “off the pole.” Do people really think raising a stripper is the worst failure a parent can make? How about raising a daughter who is too lazy to work?
The women in “Hustlers” are definitely not lazy.
The story begins about 15 years ago. Dorothy (Constance Wu) is working at Scores in Manhattan and doing okay. When she teams up with a savvy veteran stripper named Romona (Jennifer Lopez), Dorothy starts raking in cash.
The 2008 financial crisis puts a halt to the easy money. In response, Dorothy and Romona develop a new scheme: drugging rich guys and maxing out their credit cards while they are in a stupor. It is even more profitable but plainly illegal.
As a film, “Hustlers” is pretty good. It’s a lady “Goodfellas” with less characterization.
As an exploration of life as a stripper, “Hustlers” is surprisingly honest and insightful.
On a bad day, writer/director Lorene Scafaria shows us, a stripper gets economically exploited by club management and physically exploited by boorish patrons.
On a good day, however, a stripper makes lawyer-money just for spending quality time with likable gentlemen.
If a woman has a weakness for smoking or drinking, the strip club will be a brutally unhealthy place to work.
“Hustlers” shows us the uniquely stripper experience of paying an entire shopping trip with one dollar bills. At the register, you can either feel ashamed or you can hold your head up high because only an unchristian jerk would judge another person for the way she makes her living.
With all that cash coming in, there is a tendency for a stripper to become addicted to drugs or shopping. “Hustlers” argues that shopping might be the greater problem. Because when you are addicted to consumerism, the entire world is your drug dealer.
Scafaria even shows us the frustrations of employment after you retire from stripping. Romona takes a job as a salesclerk and discovers that she has to work nearly as hard for a fraction of the money in a desperately boring office. Naturally, she quits and returns to the club.
Scafaria is less focused in her analysis of the ’08 financial crisis. It is not clear whether she thinks the Wall Street guys are monsters who deserved to be drugged and robbed or human victims who are deserving of our empathy.
As a drama, “Hustlers” is merely above average. As an honest and educational analysis of strip clubs, “Hustlers” is a rare gem and well-worth seeing.