I’ll be honest, the only reason that I watched this film was because I heard the word Oscars being used in the same sentence as Jennifer Lopez. I couldn’t believe it. Especially after seeing the poster for this film. I wasn’t able to get my head around it. In terms of her acting, I only remember the J Lo of Maid in Manhattan and, well, “Turkey time, gobble gobble”. Oh, and that film where the teenage boy next doors gets her a first edition of The Iliad. An amazing literary blunder. I love it when non-bookish people try and shove bookish things in films. It’s always so obvious they have no clue what they’re talking about. But, I’m going off-topic. J Lo. Oscars. I had to find out it was true. After all, look at what happened with Magic Mike. Matthew Matthew McConaughey got loads of award nominations. Maybe I’ve misjudged her all these years? Or maybe it was just some elaborate joke that I just didn’t understand? Either way, I had to know for sure.
There have been plenty of attempts in Hollywood to portray strippers in an empowering way. However, pretty much all of them have been made by men so they’ve never really been able to avoid the whole objectification issue. That’s where Hustlers changes the game. Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria, this is a film that really celebrates women and female friendships. Yes, it’s about a group of women who drug men and steal their money but, you know, feminism. This is the kind of film that Ocean’s 8 wished it could be. This is definitely the film that The Hustle wished it could be. It’s clever, beautifully shot, and funny. Oh, and Jennifer Lopez is absolutely amazing.
Yep, I was shocked but this really could be a career-high for the singer/actor. J Lo plays the role of Ramona Vega, a stripper who has masterminded the whole plot to fleece Wall Street suits out of their cash. Ramona takes newbie Dorothy (Constance Wu) under her wing. Dorothy, known as Destiny, learns the trade from Ramona and they become good friends. After she is left struggling as a single mother, Dorothy agrees to come onboard with Ramona’s illegal activities. The pair, along with two fellow strippers, find a likely candidate, drug him, drag him back to the strip club, and charge his credit card to its limit. They pocket the cash and the man wakes up the next day not able to remember a thing.
As schemes go, it’s pretty good. Women turning the tables on the men who objectify them. The film was based on an article in New York Magazine in which journalist, Jessica Pressler, depicted the women as Robin Hood types. Where women were drugging unscrupulous creeps to get a better life during the recession. This is a film that really does place a lot of importance on money but it never feels like a greedy film. Yes, the women are obsessed with gaining wealth but there is such a focus on their friendships that it becomes something more. We see them as a family who is just trying to look out for each other. We know it’s immoral but there is such a sense of camaraderie. It really is like J Lo and her merry strippers.
And, let’s be honest, this is totally her film. I feel bad for Constance Wu. Imagine taking the lead role in a film only to be completely overshadowed by the sheer stage presence of Lopez. There was no way other way it was going to go. From her unforgettable and jaw-dropping entrance, Ramona dominates this film. In fact, it lags whenever she’s not on screen. Dorothy doesn’t have the same appeal. I know we’re supposed to care about her and her daughter but she can’t engage in the same way. Wu has a certain sweetness but she looks lost next to the powerhouse that is J Lo.
Hustlers brings together a whole load of great female performances and creates an empowering story. The script is sharp and a lot of fun. There are some absolutely cutthroat moments and you really get the sense of the women’s connection. And let’s not ignore the fact that the film is absolutely beautifully shot. Scafaria’s direction is very strong and assured. There is a perfect mix of long, travelling shots to short, sharp cuts. And everything is tinged with a gorgeous neon glow that perfectly captures the spirit of the world we’re inhabiting. Cinematographer Todd Banhazl does some mighty fine work. This is a film that could very easily have gone down the seedy, overly-sexy route but, instead, it tells this story in such a strong and loving way.
Really, Hustlers has everything you need from a crime caper but with a huge dose of heart along with it. It never loses the tension or drama that you want and it manages to celebrate everything great about women. It’s a powerful portrayal of women getting the upper hand and showing them at their full potential. It’s a sassy film that will have you believe that they didn’t really do anything too bad.