American Hustle (USA, 2013)

american-hustle-poster-2Directed by: David O. Russell. Before I saw this movie, I had absolutely no idea what it was about except what general impressions I could glean from its ad campaign, which led me to believe that this was a movie about gawking over Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence in sexy 70’s dresses and chuckling over Christian Bale and Brad Cooper with their hilarious 70’s hair and tacky outfits. Now that I’ve seen it, I’ll amend my assessment and provide the following synopsis: This is a really entertaining movie that’s mainly about how sexy Amy Adams is in all the crazy 70’s costumes they put her in, with a fantastic supporting role by Jennifer Lawrence who’s really random and hilarious (and good-looking), and supported by a minor subplot about authenticity/falseness, con artists, FBI sting operations, and all sorts of other filler to distract the film from its main preoccupation with Amy Adams’ chest area (and a few gratuitous ass shots just for fun). David O. Russell is a dazzling iconoclast, a true visionary. He has taken the standard, run-of-the-mill, masculinist, violent, profanity-laden, fast-paced, dirty and glossy and dangerous and attractive world of criminals, mafia, police, fraud, con artists and stings, and given it something truly unique, something that only David O. Russell could have given it: a beating heart, complex characters, genuine pathos, some laughs, and a whole bunch of tits. Honestly, this movie is like Goodfellas but with tits. The Sting with tits. The Departed—with tits. And, of course, those two female leads were genuinely compelling and intelligent and robust characters (or at least Amy Adams was), but hey, it never hurts to dangle some exaggeratedly unnecessary cleavage on the billboards to get some bums in the seats, am I right? What a visionary.

And maybe all of that is unfair. I guess this movie just bothered me from the get-go because I suspected (and I was right) that it would be a really intelligent, excellently crafted, artfully acted film with complex, memorable characters, and in particular, really complex, memorable, central and dominant roles for women. Amy Adams’ character is a great character. Jennifer Lawrence’s character is a bit more silly and gratuitous, but she does a great job with it. It’s fucking 2014. It’s about time we get solid female characters like this on a regular basis without being bowled over by the novelty of it. Excellent job, Mr O. Russell—for real. My lingering gripes—which I’m completely ready to scrutinize and shoot down—lead me to question what the significance was of all the gratuitous boob shots to the story and the aesthetic and the overall crafting of the character. Something something empowered modern woman something something owning her own sexuality something something creating an aesthetic of late 70s excess something something etc. Okay, okay, okay, fine. I’m ready to accept that there’s a certain amount of all of that stuff motivating all the plentiful bosoms in the film. All I’m saying is that, in addition to all of these really nice, legitimate, arty reasons for it, there’s also an element of plain old, fratboy, oldboy, slobbering-over-their-boners Al Bundy-ism motivating the filmmakers’ and the studio’s decision to frame every single outfit Amy Adams wears squarely around her tits, and to always spare a moment or two of the film’s momentum to making sure that we’ve noticed the wardrobe change (and the tits), perhaps in one of the 3 or 4 slow-motion sequences of the 3 leads walking somewhere, always with Amy in the center of the shot, always with her neckline to her navel.

Believe me, I feel silly going on about the tits. “Stop going on about the tits already. Didn’t you see past the tits? What kind of misogynist are you? Didn’t you see the great performances???” Yes I did, and they were fantastic. But I also saw the tits, as did you, as did everyone who saw the film, as did everyone who saw an ad for the film. And we saw the them because the filmmakers and the advertisers made deliberate choices to draw our attention towards them. And all I’m saying is that I can’t account for that in any artistic terms. It seems gratuitous, it seems like a lowest-common-denominator thing, and I think that this film was good enough, particularly for the women actors, that it didn’t need to lure in the masses with the promise of some low-cut tops. As a member of the (male hetero) masses, I assure you that we are all lured by the advertising industry with the image of glamorous-looking gratuitous breasts by people trying to sell us everything from beer to education to car insurance, all day every day. This movie has substance, these characters have substance, this story has substance. I would love to get past the tits, but the film never does.

And as far as that goes, I’m not sure that it was an incredible movie frankly. It was fine, it was good, it was enjoyable, it was entertaining. I’m still not sold on David O. Russell as one of the leading film artists of our time. The Fighter was fine. Three Kings was pretty neat. I Heart Huckabees was pretty awful and annoying. Silver Linings Playbook looks so boring and formulaic that I don’t even want to see it. I’m not sold on Bradley Cooper as a leading man, either. I still associate him as the goofy douchebag from The Hangover and nothing I’ve seen him do has changed that opinion. His position as a central anchoring point in the plot and core emotional spread of the characters weakens the overall story to me. There’s enough going on with Christian Bale, Amy Adams, the sting operation, the whole dynamic with Jeremy Renner, that by the time we spend a ton of screen time on Jennifer Lawrence and her whacky shit, and Bradley Cooper’s whacky shit, and Louis C.K. (as much as I love him), it’s like we’re watching a movie and a parody of the movie at the same time. Is this a whacky comedy? And if so, what is that whacky comedy doing in the middle of this really compelling narrative about authenticity and con artists and trust, and this relationship between Amy Adams and Christian Bale? This is par for the course in modern Hollywood, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Christian Bale is the only thing that really keeps this movie going. The best parts of this whole movie are Christian Bale and the soundtrack of the first half of the  movie. I don’t know, I’m ready to take some time and reflect and admit some wrongness here, but right now Russell feels like he’s trying to be Scorsese-lite, and he pretty much is. This movie has a lot more stuff for women than anything Scorsese did—and that’s not saying much—but it also has some stupid shit, like Jennifer Lawrence doing karaoke to “Live and Let Die”. In a movie over 2 hours long, that shit is plain old gratuity, playing for the parts of the audience who only bought a ticket because Jennifer Lawrence is a hot star from a huge teen book/movie franchise, and her screen time is inflated well past the relevance of her character.

I had a feeling that this post would tar and feather me in the eyes of my peers, but after looking over it, it’s still an accurate account of my initial impressions of this film. I’ll watch it again one day, and it’ll be enjoyable, maybe even admirable. But the annoying stuff will still be annoying, and that’s the difference between a fine movie and a fantastic movie. This movie is resoundingly o-kay. No more, no less.

I conclude with this image, proving that I’m not the only one on the internet who felt the way I feel.



3 responses to “American Hustle (USA, 2013)

  1. Pingback: Her (USA, 2013) | Offhand Reviews·

  2. Pingback: List of Judgements, Anno Domini 2014 | Offhand Reviews·

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