While Jennifer Lopez has proven herself to be a successful movie star, it feels like it’s been a while since she’s starred in a film as good as her. She’s always been terrific yet hasn’t always tackled challenging roles that solidify how great of an actress she can be. Her latest film Hustlers has relievingly changed that. It’s easily her best performance since her breakout turn in Selena and if we lived in a just world, she’d be an Oscar frontrunner for Best Supporting Actress.
In Hustlers, Lopez plays Ramona, a veteran stripper who takes newcomer Destiny (Constance Wu) under her wing. As both women struggle to get by, they concoct a plan to scam wealthy Wall Street clients. Their fellow strippers, Mercedes (Keke Palmer) and Annabelle (Lili Reinhart), then become a part of their scheme.
When we first meet Ramona, she comes off as overly welcoming. As the film progresses, Lopez uses elusive facial grins to give Ramona a fair amount of mystery. Although Ramona has a protective motherly quality to her, viewers still wonder whether she sees her co-workers as pawns in her chess game rather than genuine friends. Regardless of what her true intentions are, it’s clear that she’s a fighter. Ramona’s a woman who’s been handed rough cards but still knows how to scheme her way around them. She’s a morally ambiguous manipulator and Lopez subverts her star persona to create such a complex, calculating anti-heroine.
With all that being said about the brilliance of Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu is similarly multi-layered as Destiny, mapping out both her idealism and opportunism. After carrying Crazy Rich Asians which was a monster hit, Wu shows that her star magnetism in that film wasn’t a one-off. She even gets some heavy dramatic beats to handle during scenes where Destiny is interviewed by Elizabeth (Julia Stiles), a journalist covering the scam.
The film is told through a nonlinear structure as it cuts back between present scenes of Destiny being interviewed and the scam up until things took a wrong turn. Although there’s more focus on the past sequences, the interview scenes still allow focus on Destiny’s character arc. As for the other actresses playing members of Destiny and Ramona’s crew, they aren’t given as much face time, but they still leave an impression. Also, Oscar winner Mercedes Ruehl gets to make wonders with her small role as the manager of the strip club where the women work at.
Hustlers may be a high octane crime caper with more pathos than the marketing suggests. But ultimately, it’s Jennifer Lopez who acts as the picture’s driving force. Lopez is sly, comical, charismatic, tragic, as the alluring Ramona from her intro scene to her pivotal last moment.