I walked into Hustlers certain I would love it, and it met my expectations completely. That’s not to say the movie was without its surprises. The song that Jennifer Lopez’s character does her pole dance to? A revelation. That celebrity cameo halfway through the movie? Took me aback in the most wonderful way. But nothing in the movie shocked me quite like seeing—sitting across from Constance Wu in business-professional duds, playing a stand-in for the real New York magazine reporter who wrote the original article, using (I think) the very same recorder I use—Julia Stiles. Julia Stiles, as I live and breathe!
The appropriate meme to evoke here is that seeing Julia Stiles in Hustlers cleared my skin, watered my crops, and cured my seasonal affective disorder. It turns out that when Julia Stiles thrives, I thrive. And I bet the same is true for a lot of children of the ’90s. Are you telling me you didn’t yelp “Julia Stiles!” when her character showed up on screen? You did, or I did, and it’s because, for a period from 1999 to 2004 or so, Stiles reigned as one of the queens of that era’s wave of teen movies. There was a stretch in there when you could not turn on a television without happening upon The Prince and Me, a movie no one talks about anymore but that I’m positive I have watched several dozen times. How can anyone who was young then not feel a way about her? (Is it possible that I feel a way about every celebrity? Um, mind your own business!)
When was the last time you saw Julia Stiles? One of the Bournes? For me, it was in Silver Linings Playbook, a movie that—somehow—came out seven whole years ago. Stiles has worked since then but hasn’t been quite as ubiquitous as she once was. You could critique her acting talents or guess maybe she wanted to slow down. But when an actress who’s over 30 seems to disappear for a few years, don’t you start to worry that she’s become a sacrifice to Hollywood’s sexism and ageism rituals? I have no idea if any of these obstacles stalled Stiles’ career, but it doesn’t escape my notice that her first part in a big, star-studded movie in a while came in a film that was written and directed by a woman, Lorene Scafaria, who also cast 50-year-old and 37-year-old actresses as leads. This is clearly part of Hustlers’ success, as a movie and as a box-office draw. The story itself celebrates female friendship and is based on a story written by a woman about women. Stiles’ part in the movie isn’t big (come to think of it, I am curious how those Save the Last Dance moves would have transferred to the pole), and she’s understated in it, but for all these reasons, boy, was I happy to see her in it. So please join me in saying once and for all: Get it, Julia Stiles.