American Hustle

So there is a Veronica Mars movie. And it just won Variety’s Breakthrough Movie of 2014 award and was asked to have its official world premier at SXSW. Everyone is talking about it. Fans. Wannabe fans. People who think that Veronica living in New York and dating Piz ten years after college is “having her life together.”

Come on people. She’s still dating Piz.

(I still love it.)

In other news, last night I saw American Hustle. I always want to go to the movies, and I mean to go to the movies, but I rarely ever get to the movies. (It takes so much time and effort. It’s so much easier to marathon an entire season of Supernatural.) But since I actually made it to the theatre last night, plunked down my $9 (no, I do not live in a metropolis), and nabbed a seat in the 20-row theatre (again, not a metropolis), I’m going to write about the experience.

I KNOW THIS IS A TV BLOG. *gets all defensive towards the rabid fans*

*looks around for the rabid fans*

ANYhow, step one: the trailer.

In case you didn’t glean much of a story line from that (on first view, Bale’s “I just got bigger balls than you” made me think he was a crooked art dealer who had half the FBI in his pocket), the movie is about a play-it-safe con man, the woman he loves and loves to con people with, his wife whose son he can’t leave—and how he is forced to become a mole for the FBI and eventually cons his way out.

The only character I actually liked was Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner)—Mayor of Camden, NJ, father to a bunch of kids who funnily look way older than him, dedicated to improving his town and giving people jobs, and a good friend. (He’s about to kiss that baby in the screenshot below.) Unfortunately, he was just a mark.

Carmine Polito

Everyone else was just…slightly pathetic. Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) is this small time con man with a chain of dry cleaners and a glass repair business. He’s overweight and balding but is “himself” and Sydney Prosser (a.k.a. Lady Edith Greensly) falls in love with him. Aside from the gut and the combover and an unselfconscious enjoyment of jazz and a mistress, there’s not much to humanize him, and it’s hard to like him when he’s set up as the guy who takes money from people who don’t have any. (“But they’re bad guys!” So I guess they deserve it.) He is slightly pitiable when he’s crumpled on the sidewalk in the throes of a heart palpitation, but then you just kind of feel sorry for him.

American Hustle 1

Sydney (Amy Adams) is his co-conspirator and aside from being able to “survive” in what were apparently the dangerously shark-infested waters of Cosmopolitan office work in the 70s, is just really good at reinventing herself. Mostly by using a British accent. Aside from knowing that she was dead broke and had no experience (wasn’t that all of us fresh out of college?) and could con her way into a magazine job (haven’t we all done that?) and fell in love (anyone?), I never really saw enough of the hard part of her life to want her to get out of it, no matter what the cost. Even Irving’s past fails to satisfactorily set him up as a con man: apparently “they” did “something” to his glass-repairing father, and he never wanted that to happen again so he began breaking windows all over town to drum up business—but I never knew who they were or what that something was.

Then there’s Richie (Bradley Cooper) who of course I wanted to win, because it’s Bradley Cooper. Also, he’s a fed—so he’s one of the good guys. But turns out he’s a loser, too. He lives with his mom (apparently an FBI agent can’t pay rent) (in New Jersey), who prays that he will marry his fiancee whom he won’t even acknowledge long enough to talk to, and he definitely has suppressed rage. He wants to round up every dirty crook and politician, which is great, but he doesn’t really seem to want to help anyone and he is such an egomaniac. Also, he curls his hair.

Bradley Cooper

(That shot is 100% why I saw this movie.)

The characters were interesting—especially the kooky Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), Irving’s wife who reads self-help books and has a tendency to set things on fire. And the acting (of course) was great. Everyone was fun to watch. But I didn’t care enough about any of the characters to want them to win. What they lacked in likeability could have been made up for by a really great story, but the plot was missing one crucial element: suspense.

Aside from momentarily wondering which girl Irving would end up with, there is no room for speculation in this movie. Everything is explained through dialogue (perhaps most obviously in Richie’s declaration of love to Sydney, where he repeats I love you and then adds I just said that. Yeah. We heard. We get it.) The first act is a narrated montage of how deeply Irving and Sydney are in love. In each following act, the conflict is set up with a discussion between Irving and Sydney in their hotel room:

Act 1
Sydney: We should run away. Now.
Irving: I can’t leave my son.
Sydney: Fine. Then we’ll have to work with the FBI.

Act 2
Irving: I don’t really want to do this anymore.
Sydney: You are doing it, and I am going to pretend to love Richie.
And I’m going to make it really, really believable.
Irving: …

Act 3
Irving: They put a canvas bag over my head.
Flashback: A canvas bag is put over Irving’s head.
Audience: We know you’re still alive, so we don’t care.

Irving: To get out of this mess, we’re going to have to con everyone.
Sydney: Yes. And make it really good.
Irving: Okay.

Thanks for the heads up. Why not con me, too, so I really think they are going to fail and possibly die—and then to my shock and relief, reveal at the last second that they make it? But no. The long con failed. Only the bait worked: the stellar cast and glitzy design got me in the seat to begin with.

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