Is Hustlers really an Oscar contender?
By: Brittany Zendejas
On Sept.13, “Hustlers” premiered nationwide after thrilling reviews and much anticipation. Featuring Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Lili Reinhart and Keke Palmer, the real-life story of strippers going after big-time business guys proved to be an intense drama.
“Hustlers” is loosely based on the New York Times profile “Hustlers At Score,” written by Jessica Pressler who is played by Julia Stiles in the film. The opening scene shows Destiny (Wu) looking pensively in the mirror surrounded by women in scantily clad outfits preparing to hit the pole. It is a change of scenery for Wu after coming off the success of the rom-com “Crazy Rich Asians.” Wu manages to hold her own in a movie filled with some big stars—like pop legend Lopez—and her ability to become a successful stripper highlights her skills. Rather than taking the backseat to Lopez, Wu proves her range as she cuts it as a tough, edgy stripper from New York. Destiny’s scene switch between present day where she recounts her and Ramona’s wild ride to Elizabeth, a reporter who wants to know the real story that led up their criminal identities.
At the beginning of the movie, the audience is reminded of a time before the recession when Wall Street guys would shove their money into the g-strings of New York strippers. Setting the scene in 2007, the actors carry small dogs as accessories and Juicy Couture jumpsuits are worn as a fashion staple. Ramona (Lopez) literally dances her way into the movie, commanding the audience of men not just by using her body but also by boasting her swagger. Ramona is the biggest hustler, proving to have the grit of a street fighter and the persuasion of a smooth talker. It takes a larger than life personality to play Ramona, which is why Lopez is the perfect fit.
Once Destiny realizes that stripping is more than shaking her ass in front of men, her rookie attitude is challenged by veteran strippers. The moment Ramona nestles Destiny into her coat on the rooftop of the club after losing more money than gaining, the story takes off. It’s an act that is equally maternal and sexual, friendly and deceitful.
Destiny is the reporter’s guide into a world unknown and often ashamed. As she tells her story to the reporter, the viewer is treated to an inside scoop of the stripping world. Her character is soft and meek with a fire behind her eyes. She begrudgingly tells Elizabeth (Stiles) about their plans to scheme money out of big Wall Street guys by secretly charging their credit cards. We watch as the duo dance their way into fortune for the first half of the movie. Ramona is the brains behind the plan, using Destiny’s softness to give the duo an edge in the stripping world.
A view that isn’t typically granted in the stripping world is shown—some strippers are mothers trying to provide for their kids while others are working to escape a violent past. Yes, these women strip, but we learn that they are merely selling a fantasy—a very expensive fantasy—and there is power in that. However, once money is involved there is always a downfall.
Once the recession hits, the money stops coming in and this leads Ramona and Destiny to drift apart. Destiny is now a struggling single mother who reverts back to stripping in order to make some cash. After some time apart, Destiny and Ramona lock eyes across the strip club in a moment that resembles every meet-cute in rom-coms and embrace each other. Ramona doesn’t hold back with ideas for the duo proving that her scheming never really stopped. They resort to slipping men a light dose of drugs and then charge their credit cards. Ramona is a commanding force and deathly at times, reminding the audience of Gemma Teller in “Sons of Anarchy” or Analise Keating in “How To Get Away With Murder.” She will go to any length in order to secure her place in the world and at one point she says, “This whole country’s a strip club. You’ve got people tossing the money and people doing the dance.” Once the scheming gets out of hand, Destiny becomes the brazen and smart leader of the group, reminding everyone that drugging innocent men is too serious a crime to commit for money. Ramona’s true colors shine at the end. Her manipulation may have worked on others, but not on Destiny. Their once unbreakable friendship, now strained by criminal activity, leads them to part ways for good.
In the last moments of the film, where the skin-tight dresses, hooker heels and chunky highlights are gone, we see the real acting chops that Lopez has. She gives Ramona the real “Jenny from the Block” image of a hard-working woman. Had anyone else played her, the accent and big attitude of Ramona might not have worked. The leading women of this film, Wu and Lopez, are given exemplary storytelling that elevates their own skills. Lopez could see a possible Oscar nomination for supporting actress with Wu taking leading actress. But the overall movie itself lacked momentum throughout, losing some audience members to a slower pace in the second half of the movie. The big success of “Hustlers” is not just the whopping $33.2 million it raked in during its opening weekend or the fact that a movie about strippers was wildly successful and not cliché, but that Lopez and Wu acted so well together onscreen. They may earn the biggest of accolades in the acting world for telling an authentic story and telling it right.