Much of the marketing done around this film was centered around the crime the girls committed and not much of their “day jobs”, but from the moment the film opens you realize, we’re going to be spending a lot of time in this strip club. And at first, it’s a little jarring. This isn’t exactly the story you thought you were going to see. There’s naked women everywhere including our main stars. Although, I’m sure they’ve written into their contracts that full frontal was completely out of the question, cause it ain’t happening. But what you get is damn sure good enough.
And that’s the draw. The carrot they use to pull you into this story. But what happens throughout is a story with heart, friendship, and genuine sisterhood. Destiny (Constance Wu) is our lead. She’s small, Asian, not much to her figure and getting played over the little bit of money she makes at the club. Then she meets Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) a sort-of mother-like figure to all the girls at the club, and the women form a strong bond. She helps Destiny keep more of her money, make some friends, and learn to navigate through the rigors of the nightlife. It’s built so well, because at any moment, you’re anticipating the ole’ knife in the back trick. You’re waiting for the lion to betray the cub, so she can keep what she’s built and not have to share her empire with anyone. When that moment doesn’t come, you realize you’re watching a much different movie than the ones you’ve seen before.
It goes without saying that Jennifer Lopez is in rare form in this performance. She delivers as Ramona: crafty, aggressive, and loyal to a fault. It’s by far the most endearing and elegant performance of her career since Selena. It may be hard for her to nab a golden statue over a field of impressive supporting performances, but there’s no question in anyone’s mind that she deserves a nod. Constance Wu is no slouch either gathering up the necessary dramatic skills to captivate Destiny’s childlike naivete over what they were doing, but also her competency to know why it was dangerous. It’s the final act of the movie where she does some of her best work.
But for me, the thing that had me smiling from ear to ear during this movie was finally seeing Julia Stiles return to a major motion picture. She’d been absent since the days of The Bourne trilogy, and for someone who’s loved her work since 10 Things I Hate About You. It was great to see her as the duly reporter looking to get the story, and it’s my hope she continues to stay in the spotlight. My other joy was seeing future wife (Yeah, I said it) Keke Palmer just get to have fun, and deliver her signature smile to this project. She also had a lot of funny moments in the film like her running away from a hospital in heels and booty shorts. My only complaint is that their simply is not enough of Cardi B in this film. She was a huge reason for the movie’s initial reach just based on her star power, and she spends barely 5 minutes in the entirety of the film. Fans looking to see the rap star in more of the film will be slightly disappointed. The same could be said for Lizzo, who gives an impressive, near-bare-all performance in the movie, but again, is only available for a short while.
The movie focuses on the financial crash of 2008, and what everyone did to get by. But it’s no secret the strippers were hit pretty hard. Most of their clientele came from Wall Street, who had no problem spending a hefty sum on lap dances. But it’s in the conversations between our characters where the heart of the movie lies. When Ramona convinces Destiny to join in their hustle by saying the same thing about Wall Street tycoons that you might hear now from a Democratic Presidential candidate, it’s impact is felt. Or when Destiny recounts the days at the strip club after the crash and the stories feel like a boulder to the chest or for her, at least, a weight off her shoulders.
It’s hard to tell how much of the film is true to the actual article, but even if it weren’t, Director Lorene Scafaria does an excellent job giving the film and the cast enough leeway that it doesn’t drift apart. At the end of it, we have a fantastic film with all the necessary ogling material for any red-blooded, meat-eating male to indulge in, and a story with enough warmth and tenderness to it, to melt even the hardest of hearts. It has us looking forward to more of the work from everyone involved on this project.