Hustlers has one of the greatest character introductions in cinema history
This is one of the best movies of 2019. We're as surprised as anyone!
Destiny (Crazy Rich Asians' Constance Wu) is struggling to make ends meet, helping her elderly grandmother with bills, and finding it tough to get the attention of the big spenders in the strip-club she works at every night.
One night, the DJ announces the arrival of Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) to the stage, she proceeds to drop every jaw in the room. Dancing to a Fiona Apple track (of all things), she literally has every man blow their wads of cash on her, as she gets everyone in the room drooling for her attention. This includes Destiny, who is immediately blown away and looks at her with that girl-crush mix of longing and aspiration.
Carrying as much cash as she can from the stage, but proving how little she needs it by leaving about half of it behind, Romana strolls passed Destiny and whispers "Does the money make you horny?"
And that is it. With six words, Jennifer Lopez has cemented one of the greatest character introductions in cinema history.
Sexy, funny, brilliant, and exciting, it is a magnificent shorthand for Hustlers itself, which is so much more than just "that Jennifer Lopez stripping movie".
Cleverly framed by the interview that became part of the article that the movie is based on, we go back and forth between Destiny now, telling her story to a journalist (Julia Stiles, who serves up a hilarious series of soon-to-be reaction .gifs here) and Destiny then, as she was taken under the fur-coat wing of Ramona, initially teaching her how to dance better and wring each club attendee for all their worth.
Then, post-baby and post-Wall Street Crash in 2008, the two reunite, and Ramona recruits Destiny alongside a few other former strippers for a hustle that involves drugging rich bankers and maxing out their credit cards.
It is, essentially, Goodfellas With Stripping, as a wide-eyed corruptible is seduced into a life of crime by a charismatic natural leader, right up to the difficulties of having too much money, and the ever-looming knowledge that this is all going to come crashing down around them eventually.
Getting there is the fun part though, as hanging with these ladies is consistently good company, and writer/director Lorene Scafaria pumps the film with as much female-empowerment as is humanly possible.
Sure, these women are constantly seen as nothing but sex objects, but these women are all-too-aware of that, and use that as a weapon against the rich dummies who think they're in a position of power just because they've got some money and an acronym on their business cards. These guys might be the best players on Wall Street, but their collective IQ goes out the window the second they set eyes on Ramona and her crew.
It is that back-and-forth internal struggle and no-easy-answers that makes Hustlers such an interesting watch, as we know these women are breaking the law (kiiiiiiind of?), so should we really be on their side? It is tough not to be when they're having this much fun doing it.
And, again, a lot of that comes down to Lopez. Every defender of her talent has pointed back to her performance in Out Of Sight, but the twenty-plus years since then have not been filled with evidence of her capabilities. But there was always a suspicion that she could shock everyone with a fearless performance, and that is exactly what she has done here. Do not be surprised to see Best Supporting Actress talk when we get closer to awards season.
She is the magnetic center that the rest of Hustlers is pinned to, and even with a stacked cast including the aforementioned Wu and Stiles, alongside Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Cardi B, Lizzo, and, in one bravura sequence, Usher, all eyes are on her.
It is the kind of performance that redefines careers. Long live Lopez 2.0.
Hustlers is released in Irish cinemas on Friday 13 September.
Clip via STX Entertainment UK & Ireland