Jennifer Lopez gives a career-defining performance, and Constance Wu cements herself as a leading lady in this layered, hot-and-confident female tour de force.
"Hustlers" was written and directed by a woman (Lorene Scafaria), and has a mostly female crew, from its editor on down through production design and makeup. It's the best female ensemble assembled on screen since maybe "Bridesmaids." But this is no laughing matter. "Hustlers" is just as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside.
Jennifer Lopez is an absolute cyclone in "Hustlers," playing a veteran dancer who knows the in and outs of how to score some cash. And as much hype as J-Lo will generate from her award-worthy performance, this movie belongs to Constance Wu, who is a bona fide superstar-in-the-making, much like the character she portrays in "Hustlers."
Destiny (Wu) is finding it impossible to make it by, living with and supporting the only family she has, her supportive grandmother (Wai Ching Ho). So - as many attractive young women do - she turns to strip clubs as a way to make ends meet. There she meets Ramona (Lopez), who still has the goods even though she's nearing the twilight of her stage career. Ramona takes Destiny under her wing, and teaches her the ropes - and the pole. But this is not a movie about strippers, really. It's a movie about figuring out how the world works, and getting in on the game.
Based on a true story that first was printed in New York Magazine, Ramona and her crew end up taking the hustle to the streets once the market crash of 2008 emptied out most of the clubs and their client's disposable incomes. As their "business" grew, so did their need to outsource, but as any small business owner will tell you, that's usually when a company will start having problems.
What I loved about "Hustlers" is that it isn't what it seems on the surface. Underneath it is a story about an economy that has mostly left minorities behind. As Ramona teaches Destiny how to "read" her clients, the movie also exposes the audience to the social and economic hierarchy that exists in plain sight. As someone says in the film, the world is like a giant strip club, "there are those that toss the dollars, and those that do the dancing." "Hustlers" has much more to say than initially obvious.
But forget all that "deeper meaning" shit. On its surface it's a trendy, colorful and sexy movie about glamorous dancers, with a killer soundtrack and a confident swagger that is sure to make this an all-out crowd-pleaser. Jennifer Lopez is worth the price of admission, owning each frame of the film she appears in, and blowing away audience expectations in a role that goes defiantly against type. But Constance Wu gives the movie a through-line, and infuses it with heart. We know she can be funny, but in this film she goes from timid to seductive, from quiet to confident. She provides the movie with light moments and is able to pull of the more emotional ones with dramatic chops the likes of which she hadn't yet showcased. If J-Lo deserves Oscar buzz for this performance, so does Wu, simply put.
And while the two of them carry the film, their world is populated with equally rich side characters. Lili Reinhart - Betty from the CW's "Riverdale" - is breath-taking and commands the screen in her own way...she's a star on the rise if there's ever been one. Even Cardi B, Lizzo and Keke Palmer get in on the action. And don't forget about Mercedes Ruhl (!) as the Head Cougar of the nightclub, who represents to the girls what their lives may look like if they don't keep hustlin'.
"Hustlers" is a surprise, and a breath-of-fresh-air. It's dragged down a bit from a narrative perspective in how the film is framed, with a reporter (Julia Stiles) questioning Destiny about her past...it's a trope that feels a bit musty in a film that is anything but stale.
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama.
Run Time: 1 hour 49 minutes.
Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Lizzo, Cardi B, Constance Wu, Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart.
Directed by Lorene Scafaria ("The Meddler," "Seeking A Friend for the End of the World").
"Hustlers" is in theaters on Friday, September 13th, 2019.
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