One thing that you need to know about me. I love, and I mean love, Jennifer Lopez. From early performances in things like Selena to TV roles in Shades Of Blue to, of course, the music, J. Lo is someone who I have followed for pretty much my entire life, and that stands for the bad as well as the good! My love runs so deep that I am one of the few who can even forgive the absolute offensive disaster that was 2003’s Gigli. You can imagine my excitement, then, when the whispers are that not only is Lopez’s latest feature a home run, but that she also happens to be the best thing about it.
Inspired by 2015 New York Magazine article written by Jessica Pressler. Hustlers tells the story of crew of New York City strippers who, after the 2008 financial crisis, turn to more nefarious activities in order to make the money that downtrodden, fallen Wall Street types are no longer willing to spend on them. The film sees ‘new kid on the block’ Dorothy (Constance Wu) taken under the wing of Ramona (Jennifer Lopez), the beautiful and charismatic ring leader and mentor of the other girls, and narrative follows a familiar but effective rise and fall arc that sees the women bite off far more than they can chew to detrimental effect.
Do you remember how the first Magic Mike movie looked like a, silly disposable thing but actually turned out to be something much more? Well, think of Hustlers as a female centric version of that. The posters look shiny, the trailers very saucy with flirtatious energy, but the absolute pleasure of the film is in discovering that it somehow feels like a lot more than the the sum of its parts. Alongside all of the flashy, voyeuristic dancing is not only a commentary on the power dynamics of female friendship, but also a wider social commentary on a time in history that doesn’t usually get addressed from such an angle. Something like The Big Short took an interestingly formatted deep dive into the financial crisis back in 2015, but Hustlers is one of the first stories that displays the crisis filtered down into areas that the news certainly didn’t care about discussing.
What I find particularly interesting about Hustlers is the way in which it forces the audiences to reckon with their own morality on the events taking place on screen. As the women become more daring, and the lengths they go to become more and more ethically ambiguous, there are moments where you have to consider whether the actions have tipped over from ‘getting what’s mine in a relatively harmless way’ to ‘putting lives in actual, illegal danger’. Cleverly, though, just when you think the film is trying to blow over the crimes in favour of blameless adventure, the narrative use of Julia Stiles as the journalist recording the events gives you that shot of perspective that is needed.
So, about that J. Lo. Everything that you have is true. Many are calling this the best performance of Jennifer Lopez’s career and I can’t find much to argue in that. As Ramona, Lopez is the kind of head bitch in charge that we all our in our wildest dreams. Sexy, bold, confident, clever, calculated, manipulative, the character is one that you fall in love with one second and start to distrust the next. It’s not an exaggeration to state that you can’t take your eyes off of her, and of course the casting is perfection because that is the exact intention. Charisma for days and naturally possessing of that ‘star quality’ gene that the character needed, Lopez is clearly having an absolute ball, including an introduction scene for the ages. Whether the performance holds up well enough all the way through to the business end of awards season, only time will tell, but it’s certainly some of the most attention grabbing fun I’ve have in the cinema this year so far.
As partial audience surrogate Dorothy, Constance Wu gives another good performance, one that helps to weave all of the different story angles and time jumps together to keep the narrative flowing fluidly. Wu does a great job of showcasing that initial vulnerability and tentativeness, before momentarily transforming into something resembling her scene stealing mentor. Her existence within the narrative always remains a much more grounded one, but she still takes the chances to show off when they present themselves. Together, the actresses manage to create a believable chemistry in not much time at all, certainly enough to give the fallout of the narrative some emotional impact.
Alongside Lopez and Wu, Keke Palmer and Lilli Reinhart make up the main crime quartet. Whilst not getting to express themselves in the same ways as their two leading co-stars, both performers manage to inject some humour and drama when needed. A number of really fun cameos from the likes of Cardi B and Lizzo that, whilst certainly having that ‘oh, it’s her!’ effect, also don’t feel out of place within the film’s universe. With every shape, size and colour represented in the vibrant, bust strip club scenes, there is something about the film that feels very much a celebration of womanhood alongside a deeper, more sinister crime plot.
Overall, Hustlers is sure to be one of the biggest and most pleasant surprises of the year for many. It might not be the most searing portrayal of strip club life or the most detailed crime film you will see, but there is just something about it that makes it a great film watching experience. A cast of amazing women, a plot that forces viewers to travel down a morally and ethically ambiguous road, topped off with an absolutely banging soundtrack. Come for J. Lo, stay for J. Lo, proceed to think about J. Lo for the rest of the week.