HOLLYWOOD—Let me put this out there, if you’re going into the Jennifer Lopez starrer “Hustlers” to see stripping and actual nudity, you might be disappointed. Yes, the movie is about strippers, but its focus is NOT solely on women stripping and taking their clothes off. You might think that is a bad thing, but it is not. This movie has a lot more going for it than what the audience knows. The dramedy focuses on the world of strippers, and the women entangled in a workplace where people think they know what they don’t know.
It’s worth noting the flick focuses on a specific time frame, specifically in the late 2000s when the United States faced an economic crisis that crippled most of America. This is where the audience is introduced to Destiny (Constance Wu), a single mother doing what she has to do to take care of her child and to keep her head afloat. With that said she’s a newbie and struggles to get her footing. She gets taken under the wing of veteran stripper Ramona Vega (Jennifer Lopez).
There has been a lot of talk about Lopez’s performance in “Hustlers” and rightfully so. Its Lopez, unlike audiences has ever seen her. She commands the role; she is fierce, of course sexy, but calculating and her character is easy to identify with as a viewer. You root for her and the women she mentors to get in on the scheme that she has cooked up which is quite genius to say the least.
There has been Oscar buzz for Lopez and after watching the flick, it’s well deserved. It might be Lopez’s finest performance in her career next to her work in the 1997 biopic “Selena.” Its flashy, but not over-the-top, its nuanced, but gripping, its layered and seeing those slices peeled away is a ton of fun to witness.
However, with the economy crashing Ramona realizes the club has taken a massive tumble and so has the women who she works closely with. So what precisely does Ramona cook up? A plan to take money away from corporate CEOs and those on Wall Street, who are frequent patrons at their strip club. She’s like the godfather cooking up this clever scheme to get ahead of the game, and keep herself and the people she care about financially fit during a difficult time.
Lorena Scafaria’s script is sharp, poignant and relevant balancing a dichotomy of an America we know that left so many people on their knees doing any and everything to stay afloat in comparison to the corporate raiders who continued to live big while everyone else was begging for crumbs. You root for these women; you cheer for their success and you could care less about the guys who are swindled by these savvy ladies.
Other supporting players in the flick include musicians Cardi B and Lizzo, as well as actress Keke Palmer and Reinhart who do solid work. Julia Stiles portrays Elizabeth, the journalist writing about the scheme. This is an ensemble that works well together, and Lopez helps to secure the wheel in navigating the narrative. Scarfaria does a sensational job behind the camera immersing the audience into the world of strippers, the preconceived notions and sometimes a dark truth we don’t realize because we think we know what we actually don’t know. You feel like you’re in that strip club and that is a difficult task to accomplish in the cinematic universe.
I knew the moment that I saw the trailer for “Hustlers” that this was a flick where there was more than meets the eye. When I left the theater, I felt a triumphant jubilation witnessing a piece of cinema that was not only entertaining, but opened your eyes to the plight of people who are sometimes forgotten. No, I’m not referring only to strippers, but the everyday American who finds a way to survive even in the darkest times. It might not be legal, but you do what you have to at times to survive. You’re stealing from those who stole from everyone else, so have you really committed a crime? That’s a gut-punch of a question that “Hustlers” forces the viewer to ask.