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Jennifer Lopez Looks To Break Through To Oscar Voters With “Hustlers”

For years, strippers have been depicted cinematically as damsels needing to be saved. In fact, movies have almost exclusively looked at sex workers as damaged individuals. Awards wise, it’s catnip for voters, by and large. The features themselves have been mostly heavy affairs, give or take something like Woody Allen’s Mighty Aphrodite, which did actually win Mira Sorvino an Oscar. Magic Mike flipped the script a bit a few years ago and now we have Hustlers, which empowers strippers in a way that cinema has never seen before. In showcasing a determined group of women rebelling against not just toxic masculinity, but the elite as well, this is poised to be one of the surprise hits of 2019.

The film is based on a true story, specifically a New York Magazine article that went viral a handful of years ago. We are first introduced to Destiny (Constance Wu), a stripper who’s new at the club and struggling financially. When she sees how much money Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) rakes in during a dance, she immediately seeks her out as a mentor. Taking Destiny under he wing, Ramona shows her the unwritten rules and tricks of the trade. Not only does it lead to more money to help take care of her grandmother, but it starts a friendship. Together, they milk rich Wall Street employees for all they can. Then, in 2007 when the financial collapse hits, work dries up. Destiny gets pregnant and leaves the industry, returning a few years later to see how different the strip club has become. Running into Ramona again, the elder stateswoman lets her in on a secret to staying afloat. Now, they hook their rich clientele at bars, getting them totally smashed, and running up their credit cards at the club, receiving a cut of the profits. Soon, this becomes a group operation, with Annabelle (Lili Reinhart) and Mercedes (Keke Palmer) making up the initial quartet. Plus, now they dose the men with a mix of Ketamine and MDMA. The good times are rolling, but as is always the case, how long can they last? By the sound of the conversation Destiny is having with a writer (Julia Stiles) in the framing device, not forever, obviously. Lorene Scafaria writes and directs, with cinematography by Todd Banhazl. Supporting players include Cardi B, Lizzo, Madeline Brewer, Jon Glaser, Mercedes Ruehl, and more.

Hustlers is a lot of fun, though plenty angry too in its depiction of how the United States is just one big strip club. And yes, Lopez is as good as advertised. Leading the charge of former strippers going after the worst of Wall Street by attacking their wallets, her performance is just terrific. Wu does strong work as well, though it’s definitely Lopez’s show. Scafaria’s writing and direction are lively, with almost exclusively strong music cues (one seems out of place, time wise, but it’s a small quibble to have). There’s a hump, pace wise, in the middle section, though the first act is an absolute blast. Things wrap up a little too quickly, as Scafaria’s gangster movie influences (specifically, she’s homaging Martin Scorsese here) are used as shorthand, but by and large this is across the board rock solid work.

Jennifer Lopez may well be on her way to an Academy Award nomination here. Her work here is easily the best of her career, full of vim and vigor, but also with a terrific lived in quality. The question for STX and Lopez’s camp will be where to campaign here. Oscar attention, as well as precursor love, will probably come regardless of category, but the path to a nomination seems easier in Best Supporting Actress than in Best Actress. She’s a straddler, truthfully, and essentially is the co-lead here with Constance Wu, but a case can be made that this is more Wu’s story, even though Lopez steals the show. Where she’s placed and how she fares will be one of the season’s more interesting stories to follow.

This weekend, audiences are almost assuredly going to make Hustlers a smash hit. Lorene Scafaria has crafted an entertaining crowd pleaser of the highest order here. This flick offers something for everyone, truly. Especially for fans of Lopez, however, this is a showcase that solidifies her acting talent in way that’s never fully been seen before. Give it a shot and you’ll almost certainly be blown away. Oscar season is about to make room for J-Lo…

Be sure to check out Hustlers, in theaters everywhere this Friday!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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