Hustlers

New York, 2007. Dorothy aka Destiny is starting work at a “Gentlemen’s Club” frequented by bankers. The work involves gyrating on pissed blokes’ laps and pole dancing to Fiona Apple records while the audience throws dollar bills at you. It looks entirely demeaning, and, after the strippers make required pay offs made to various men looking after their interests, it doesn’t even pay well.

Worse is to come. The financial crash of 2008 means that there are fewer lairy men in suits prepared to splash money about. Added to that, there’s an influx of Russian women coming in prepared to do more for less. When Dorothy gains a baby and loses a useless boyfriend, she decides to take some time out.

But just when she thought she was out, they pull her back in. Dorothy is struggling for money when she comes across an old colleague who has a plan: chat up men in pubs, introduce them to your “sisters”, then drug them with a mixture of ketamin and MDMA before maxing out their credit cards. If they suggest making a fuss, you threaten to tell their wives and boss exactly what happened.

This could be the basis for a great film. Significant roles for women, and an enemy which deserves everything they get. This is not just the bankers who fucked up our livelihoods, its also self-entitled men who think that watching women being humiliated in strip clubs is some sort of fun. Bring it on.

Except that the film is nothing like it could – and should – have been. What could have been inspired diverse casting ends up as a bunch of stereotypes. So there’s the Asian-American one, the Latina-American one, the Afro-American one and the blonde-American one, who don’t appear to have a personality trait between them. Well, that’s not quite true. The blonde one vomits when she’s nervous – a “running joke” which is used to a tedious extent.

Not only are the women bland, they end up being no better than the self-regarding bastards who they are trying to expropriate. They may start off trying to provide for their kids and debt-ridden granny, but very soon they’re spending their money on big houses, fur coats and fancy bags. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again: but already it was impossible to say which was which.

There is a point towards the end of the film when Dorothy explains to a journalist that she wanted to get out earlier but couldn’t because she needed the money. Its hard to tell whether she’s lying or is just being self-delusional. Yet as the film so far has been shown from her POV, you can only assume that we are expected to sympathise.

And then there is the needless sentimentality. So, when we’re starting to get frustrated by the same plot line being repeated over and over again, we’re given the sad death of a close relative. And when we need a plot device to wonder whether the women are in the right, we meet a victim who is not just a nice guy, but has a failed relationship and a kid with autism. You can only tug on our heartstrings when we’re unaware that we’re being so blatantly manipulated.

There have been a number of recent films where women and racial minorities have been allotted roles which have been traditionally given to men. This is an entirely good thing, and long may it continue. But isn’t it time for the next step? Instead of allowing women and men to have the same shitty roles, isn’t it time for a film which depicts women and People Of Colour who have interesting personalities.

Constance Wu may thank you for this. Before this film, she starred in Crazy Rich Asians. In both films, she acts perfectly competently but the plots are so risible and the characters so undeveloped that you had to keep pinching your eyes to keep concentrating. Maybe next time, they’ll remember to hire a decent scriptwriter.

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