J-Lo & Constance Wu Reign Supreme in Scrappy True-Crime Stripper Saga
Starring Jennifer Lopez & Constance Wu
Directed by Lorene Scafaria
Jenny from the block is J-Lo on the pole in Hustlers, the true-crime scrapper of a tale about strippers who turn the tables on their upscale clients.
Jennifer Lopez stars as Ramona, the queen showgirl in a group of dancers at a notorious New York strip club where Wall Street fat cats come to pop their corks. As the story begins in 2007, we watch as she shows the “new girl,” Destiny (Constance Wu), the ropes—and the pole.
The Carousel, Peter Pan, the Fairy, the Stag, the Tabletop, the Martini, the Fireman Down. If you didn’t know all those “moves” before, well, now you can thank J-Lo for the tutorial.
Adapting a story that originally appeared in New York magazine, director Lorene Scafaria (whose previous feature film was Susan Sarandon’s The Meddler) doesn’t shy from the realities about what it’s like for women who work in the degrading shadows of the sex industry. She likes long tracking shots that follow her actors as they move, through the club or down a street, taking us along, making us feel a part of them, aside them, along with them, giving us their perspectives. And as the words of Janet Jackson’s song remind us in the very opening scene, “This is a story about control,” and it certainly is.
Ramona, Destiny and their coworkers want to take control of their lives, their finances and their futures.
The women, feeling exploited by the men who come to their club—and who run their club—come upon a plan: They’ll drug their clients with memory-blotting cocktails, drain their credit cards and skim a little off the top to keep the club happy.
When the stock market crashes in 2009 and the bottom falls out of Wall Street, it presents a temporary setback for everyone. But survivors survive, and Ramona and Destiny are survivors, and soon they’re back, kicking things up a notch or two.
It’s fun, it’s feisty, it’s gaudy and glitzy and gritty and it feels good, even when you know it has to be wrong.
These are some dangerous curves, but Ramona is confident. “They would do this anyway,” she says about the guys who come in for private dances in the so-called “champagne” room. “We’re just helping them do it.” And the fact that they’re maxing out the bank accounts of drooling Wall Street wolves is even better, she says. “They stole from everybody. When they come into the clubs, [they’re spending] stolen money. Is that fair?”
Lopez, who got her start as a “Fly Girl” dancer on TV’s In Living Color back in the early 1990s, is galvanizing as take-charge Ramona; it’s easy to see why she’s already getting early Oscar buzz for playing this tough cookie with a big heart and all the right moves. Now her resume includes dozens of films, four No. 1 hit singles and sales of more than 80 million records, a stint as a judge on American Idol, producing and hosting her own TV competition (World of Dance) and starring in her own TV drama (Shades of Blue). She also has her own production company, clothing lines and fragrances. Hollywood’s most successful Latino actress by far, if she gets a Best Actress Academy Award for this role, she’d become the first Latina to do so.
But it’s Wu, the star of TV’s Fresh Off the Boat, and who made such a movie splash in Crazy Rich Asians, who provides the story’s true heartbeat as Destiny. A single mom trying to care for her young daughter and her immigrant grandmother, she’s eventually troubled by the ethics of the plan she and Ramona have masterminded.
The rest of the cast is particularly solid as well, with Riverdale’s Lili Reinhart, Madeline Brewer from The Handmaid’s Tale, Scream Queens’ Keke Palmer and rappers Cardi B and Lizzo in colorful supporting roles that shore up—and stir up—this story about sisterhood, family, ferocious femininity and how the line between right and wrong can sometimes get pretty blurry.
Julia Stiles plays a journalist through which everything unfolds in back-and-forth flashbacks.
So there’s a lot of “representation” in Hustlers, both onscreen and offscreen—women taking charge, minority actors moving to the fore, men who commodify women getting taken down, and taken to the cleaners. As a lot of people have been saying for some time, it’s about time.
“Everybody’s hustlin’,” says Ramona, who notes that we’re all either doing our dance, or throwing down our money. Let’s all do the Hustle. And all hail queen J-Lo.
In theaters Sept. 13, 2019