“Don’t be fooled by the rocks that I got / I’m still I’m still Jenny from the block”
For most of her career, she’s been emphasizing her humble roots and her childhood in the Bronx, to various degrees of praise and ridicule. It’s all genuine, of course: her parents, a night-shift worker at an insurance company and a homemaker, were immigrants from Puerto Rico; where Lopez spent the first few years of her life in a tiny apartment in the Castle Hill neighborhood of the borough. After more than twenty years of fame and fortune, the United States’ most influential Latina entertainer has come back with a vengeance in the new crime thriller Hustlers.
Based on a 2015 article from The New Yorker, Hustlers is the story of four strippers who embezzled thousands upon thousands of dollars from the Wall Street wolves, that frequented their clubbed in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. Lorene Scarafia’s film (side note: having a woman direct this story really does make all the difference in the world) begins while the club is in its glory days of the mid-2000s, on Dorothy’s (aka “Destiny”) first night of work at the club. Played by Constance Wu (Fresh Off the Boat), she’s shy and meek compared to her associates, including Liz and Diamond (rappers Lizzo and Cardi B, respectively). Her earnings are slow that night, and she doesn’t know what to do, until someone comes along to help her. The men at the club scream and cheer as Ramona – a veteran stripper (Jennifer Lopez) – struts onto the stage in a skimpy and bedazzled outfit, complete with epaulettes and a captain’s hat. As “Criminal” by Fiona Apple plays from the speakers, Ramona effortlessly dances on the pole, causing a hurricane of money to be thrown her way. As she teases the men close to her, Destiny stares at her in admiration. Their first interaction happens when Ramona walks past her, clutching money close to her breasts, as she cooes, “Doesn’t money make you horny”?
It’s the kind of character introduction that should be analyzed in introductory film classes: an utterly iconic entrance that plays with both the character’s persona and the mythos of the star playing her. As the story unfolds, the film continues to toy with Ramona’s characterization, ultimately presenting a darker side of “someone from the block”: someone blindly seeking revenge on the rich men of society who wronged her – alongside millions of people like her . Of course, it’s easy to root for Ramona, Destiny, Mercedes (Keke Palmer), and Annabelle (Lili Reinhart). The men they’re scamming helped fuel of the greatest financial disasters in American history, and not a single one of them got punished for it. And after all, don’t we all root for underdogs? Underdogs much like that ones Jennifer Lopez has played for her entire career?
She’s always played the underdog: think of the thriller Enough, where she dragged her child across the country to escape an abusive marriage; or Maid in Manhattan, where she played a hard-working single mother who fell in love with a major politician. The difference with Hustlers is that it’s her first role in a long time – maybe ever – that sheds light on the desperation and moral ambiguity of an underdog, especially when all they need at first is financial security. Lopez really lets loose in the role, showing off previously untapped areas of her acting skills. It’s a gloriously dramatic role that rarely comes along in Hollywood for women over the age of 40. Should an Oscar nomination come her way, it’ll be richly deserved. A woman who came from humble beginnings, now relaxing on the roof of a hub for the rich and powerful, smoking a cigarette as she wears a bikini, heels, and the world’s most gorgeous fur coat? That’s Ramona – and in a way, that’s Jennifer Lopez too. Jenny from the Block has conquered the world.
Hustlers is Now Playing in Cinemas Nationwide