TIFF review roundup: Jennifer Lopez strips down and reveals an Oscar-worthy performance in ‘Hustlers’

It has been a while since Jennifer Lopez has had a live-action film — namely, 1998’s “Out of Sight”– that earned a positive ranking on Rotten Tomatoes. I am happy to declare JLo has broken her losing streak and scored an unexpected major crowd-pleaser that also wooed critics after its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival over the weekend. If anyone was looking for a surprise breakout hit for Oscar attention a la “Green Book” this year,”Hustlers” seems to poised to slide into that spot.

The headline on Justin Chang‘s review in the “Los Angeles Times” says it all: “Jennifer Lopez is a star reborn in ‘Hustlers,’ a smart, bracing tale of strippers turned grifters.” Meanwhile, Chang is positively gushy about the singer-dancer-actress, who is probably better known as of late as a reality show judge on TV’s “World of Dance”: “As Ramona, a one-woman supernova who reigns over a New York strip club, Lopez gives her most electrifying screen performance since “Out of Sight,” slipping the movie into her nonexistent pocket from the moment she strides out onto a neon-lighted stage in a rhinestone bodysuit.”

Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria (“The Meddler”), the fact-based movie, which extols the virtues of seduction as well as the allure of perfectly executed con, is loosely based on a group of strippers who decide to take advantage of their wealthy clients during the financial crisis of 2008 by drugging them and then snatching their credit cards and stealing thousands from their accounts.

Chang pinpoints the main appeal of “Hustlers” — a premise that most working women can relate to: “The logistics of this table-turning operation, in which the exploiters becoming the exploited, are nearly as irresistible as they are revealing about this world and its interlocking dynamics of gender and sex, class and power. The women’s strategy depends on the men’s presumption of their docility, weakness and lack of ambition or know-how.”

Luckily, a goodly number of female critics have also chimed in on “Hustlers,” and most are quite pleased by what they saw, including  performances by Constance Wu, Keke Palmer, Mercedes Ruehl, Cardi B and Lizzo. According to “Entertainment Weekly’s” Leah Greenblatt: “Lopez (who seems to hold the center of every scene she’s in) and Wu bring a soulfulness and desperation to their roles that defy easy profiling. Yes, they’re single moms from disadvantaged backgrounds, but the script doesn’t martyr them or offer excuses for the choices they make. What it does, smartly if sometimes a little too neatly, is make them feel real.”

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“Us Weekly’s” Mara Reinstein also lavishes praise on Lopez, who is an executive producer as well: “Even at her most sinister, she’s sympathetic — and it’s a testament to Lopez’s acting abilities that she gives this glamorous diva a heroic edge. Still, make no mistake: She’s no prototypical stripper with a heart of gold.”

IndieWire’s Kate Erbland believes that Lopez’s supporting performance is truly worthy of Oscar attention:  “It’s about women doing the best they can in a broken system. It’s also funny, empowering, sexy, emotional, and a bit scary, with most of those superlatives coming care of a full-force performance from Jennifer Lopez genuinely deserving of awards consideration.”

“Hustlers” will open nationwide on Sept. 13.

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