Before getting into the magnificence of Hustlers, it’s important to take a moment to recognize a film that includes a star-studded cast of all women — and mainly women of color for that matter. During a time when Latinx representation is still quite limited, all hail the queen J.Lo who helms this film with the gritty yet warm presence of a criminal mastermind with a heart of gold.
J.Lo’s entrance in the highly anticipated Hustlers starts off with a bang and her fiery presence holds up for the entirety of the film — until the last moment with her middle fingers up in defiance of the system. Based on Jessica Pressler’s New York magazine article, “The Hustlers At Scores” follows a group of female performers from New York City’s legendary Scores nightclub who drug Wall Street hotshots and max out their credit cards. But well, they keep the money for themselves.
Before the 2008 recession, J.Lo’s character Ramona was the established star of the show. Newbie Destiny (played by Constance Wu), Cardi B (in her element), and Lizzo who for a few minutes shines on-screen — playing with her flute in ways we’re not used to (use your imagination, y’all) — dazzle a room full of rich, horny men with pockets full of cash, willing to spend five figures on one night.
Ramona’s introductory scene in Hustlers includes an acrobatic pole-dancing number where J.Lo gets to flash her stunning body (we wish we could move like that at 50) and showcase her skills as the cash rains all around her. But this is the only real moment her body is given center stage because not long after it’s her conniving yet brilliant mind that takes over.
The film also follows what happens after the 2008 crash and how business slowed down, drastically forcing the women to go off and make ends meet in the real world. At this point, audiences begin to understand why they did what they did.
We see Constance Wu’s Destiny breaking it off with her boyfriend and raising her young daughter on her own and Ramona working at an Old Navy with a callous boss who recommends she get a babysitter when she asks if she can leave to pick up her daughter early. A couple of times in the film, Ramona tells Destiny “motherhood is a mental illness” because of what a mom is willing to do for her child, and they both take it to the extreme but you understand why.
She and Destiny, however, make for a dynamic duo, in a twisted mother-daughter dynamic with Ramona quickly taking her under her wing, with one teaching the other how to make off with the big bucks. Wu and J.Lo are perfect foils for each other. Ramona is loud and loving, Destiny is timid but smart, there’s love and a little hate involved in this complicated relationship between the two women.
Hustlers portrays the plights of working mothers trying to make enough to get by and take care of not only themselves but their children. This is why Hustlers goes beyond simply being a story about strippers. It’s about motherhood, sisterhood, and family. Hustlers shows Ramona and the rest of the women spending Christmas together, and Ramona taking on the role of a mother figure for her motley crew of women in addition to her young adolescent daughter.
In this story of class warfare, the criminals are the most likable characters in the film. So when the drugs and scheming come in, it’s less about larceny and more about the working class taking a tiny piece of the wealth of the one percent.
In Hustlers, Ramona creates a drug concoction that’s the perfect combo that allows the women to take advantage and makes men forget exactly what happens. If they’ve got a problem with their maxed-out credit card the next day, she reminds them it’s not worth pursuing especially when there’s a wife involved (well played).
For a time Ramona, Destiny, Lili Reinhart (Annabelle) and Keke Palmer (Mercedes) get to enjoy the fruits of their illicit labor with Loubitins, new homes, and chinchilla fur coats but most importantly, their independence. Palmer and Reinhart have little screen time but they shine when on-screen, especially Palmer who yells “we love you Gary” the first time they fear a man might die from the drug.
It’s a wild ride that’s hard to believe is a true story but it’s carried beautifully by J.Lo’s charisma. To see a woman, a Latina no less, take on slimy millionaires and mastermind these elaborate heists of the sort — it’s like seeing your girl hustlin’ and not just surviving but thriving.
*SPOILER ALERT*: Their crimes catch up with them but as Ramona says, “the world is a strip club” — some people are dancing and others got the cash. For just a short time, these hustlin’ women made the system work FOR them and in a world where money and men rule that’s next level female empowerment that you will find yourself applauding at the end.