Superficial Movie Reviews: ‘American Hustle’

I’ve been in a bit of a movie dry spell lately, which is really not like me. Usually, I’m out the door at the slightest provocation, happy to leave the kids and Ad Man to their own devices for two blissful hours. Recently, though, the weather has been miserable and the film offerings have been less than enticing. But, you know what starts after Christmas? Oscar season, baby!

After living in LA for ten years and working in “the Industry,” albeit tangentially, I still get that giddy feeling when the studio heads start releasing their best films in hopes of bringing home a few more of those little golden men. And, I am a sucker for a good movie. So, yesterday, I headed to my favorite theater (the one with the reclining seats, of course) to see ‘American Hustle.’

american_hustle_castAs I was enjoying the movie and analyzing the interior decor of the sets and the actors’ hairstyles, an idea came to me.  Why not start a series of movie reviews for MommyEnnui? These will be no run-of-the-mill film reviews, however. You can read any number of reviews by people much more qualified than I am to weigh the quality of films. I, on the other hand, am uniquely qualified to provide you with what I’ll be calling “Superficial Movie Reviews.”

Want to know the merits of a particular script or an actor’s performance? Check in with Manohla Dargis of the New York Times. Want to read a review that discusses the leading man’s unconvincing hairpiece or why a character would never have that lame tattoo in real life? I’m your gal!  So, without further ado, I bring you MommyEnnui’s first Superficial Movie Review of ‘American Hustle.’

first_gap_storeFirst, while it’s completely irrelevant to this review, I must say, I loved this film. As I’ve mentioned previously, I have a soft spot in my heart for the 1970s and this movie is steeped in the spirit and style of the decade from the very first moment. In a cool bit of nostalgia, the film opens with the 1970s Columbia Pictures logo. The font used for the credits is perfection. It’s that groovy, rounded ‘70s lettering used in the original Gap logo. (For those younger than me–and that’s a disturbingly large number of people–I have provided a photo for reference.)

The soundtrack was also pretty damn fantastic. I immediately flashed back to riding in my parent’s Buick LeSabre with the windows rolled down, my stringy hair whipping my face and occasionally getting stuck in my bubble gum. Soundtrack highlights range from soft rock hits like ‘Horse with No Name’ by America and ‘Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?’ by Chicago to disco greats like ‘I Feel Love’ by Donna Summer and ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’ by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. There was also some jazz thrown in for character development. (Sorry, I didn’t mean to get all deep and film school-y.)

The ‘American Hustle’ soundtrack actually brings up a few questions. For example, how many bands of the ‘70s were named after a city, state or country? Also, is there still a genre of music being made today that would be considered light rock or “adult contemporary” or do us oldsters just cling to the music of our youth? Discuss amongst yourselves.

christian_bradley_hustleIf there’s one thing that ‘American Hustle’ succeeds greatly at, it’s making male actors who are very attractive in real life look wildly unappealing on film. I’m not going to lie, it’s a bit of a tragedy for straight, female viewers. Never before have Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Renner been so difficult to gaze upon. If Christian Bale’s paunch and comb-over and Bradley Cooper’s man-perm don’t already have their own Twitter accounts, I’d be shocked.

In fact, all the hairstyles in this movie are amazing…either amazingly awesome or amazingly awful. While the male characters tend toward awful, the female characters’ coifs are almost uniformly awesome. Jennifer Lawrence is her usual gorgeous self with a romantic, messy updo that’s a perfect counterpoint to her loopy, unhinged character and Amy Adams’s mane of Donna Summers-esque disco curls is a thing of beauty. Color this straight-haired girl green with envy!

And, speaking of disco, there’s a scene in which Bradley Cooper and Amy Adams are dancing the night away that is H-O-T.  Why don’t I remember disco being this sexy? In my memory, disco was about as beguiling as line dancing. (And, I challenge anyone to try to make line dancing sexy.)  I guess it could be because I was in elementary school at the time and, at that point, was way more into Shaun Cassidy than Tony Manero. I don’t know. What I do know is that the disco scene in ‘American Hustle’ almost made me forget about Bradley Cooper’s perm…and that’s saying a lot.

As for the costumes, the women take this category hands down as well. Leisure suits, ties as wide as your head and brown-on-brown-on-brown are men’s fashion trends that were left behind in the ‘70s for good reason. The women’s costumes, however, are slinky, very low-cut and either menswear-inspired or flowy and feminine. I guarantee you that Tom Ford, Stella McCartney and Phoebe Philo have screeners of this movie playing on a loop in their design studios as we speak. Expect models with Amy Adams’s small, perky boobs and uber-deep v-neck blouses to be all over your nearest runway come fall.

Amy Adams;Jennifer Lawrence

Christian Bale who plays Irving Rosenfeld, lead hustler, has some of the best lines in the film. At one point he refers to his wife, played by Jennifer Lawrence, as “the Picasso of passive-aggressive karate” (I’m going to try that one on Ad Man). Another time, he tells her, “I thought you were mysterious, like my mother!  Until it turned it out mysterious meant depressed, hard to reach.” The last line actually gave me hope that I might come off as mysterious when I’m depressed, but something tells me Jennifer Lawrence does ‘mysterious’ a hell of a lot better than I do.

Lawrence supplies much of the comic relief in the film. Two of my favorite moments include her character Rosalyn learning how to use a newfangled “science oven” (microwave) and trying to convince Irving that he really should thank her for turning him in to some menacing local mobsters that now want to kill him. The girl’s got some serious chops when it comes to comedy.

american_hustle_setFinally, I would be terribly remiss if I didn’t mention the super fab ‘70s decor featured in the film. Everything is warm and wood paneled with smoked glass and bronze and gold accents supplying the glam. Suddenly, my own mid-century modern house and furniture feels a little too predictable and well-behaved. It could use a little something over-the-top and, dare I say, tacky. But you know, good-tacky…like metallic wallpaper. I would say this movie is going to set off a return to ‘70s rustic-mod style in interior design if design megastar Kelly Wearstler hadn’t already been doing this for years. Take a look at the images here to play a little game of “‘American Hustle’ set or Kelly Wearstler design?” It’s not as easy as you’d think.

kelly_wearstler_bedroom_2Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed the first installment of Superficial Movie Reviews.  I know I’m going to enjoy having a legitimate reason to see more films. Also, if I ever make any money from this blog, I’ll be able to write off movie tickets on my taxes just like the good old days!  If you’ve seen ‘American Hustle,’ I’d love to hear your thoughts on it and, if there’s a movie you think I should see, please let me know.

Scenes from a ’70s Childhood

Jackie 4 mo. old with MomI was born in the Summer of Love, 1969. Well, it was actually the spring directly preceding the Summer of Love, but there’s really no need to be nitpicky.  As much as I’d like to claim that I was conceived by two hippies in the back of a VW van at Woodstock, that’s not only untrue, but also a biological impossibility.  I was actually born in a suburb of Chicago that wasn’t exactly a hotbed of free love and progressive politics. My parents were both 22 years old, having gotten married two years previously.  Family members assumed that my mother was having trouble getting pregnant since she and my father waited so long to start a family.

My dad worked for the town in various capacities (driving snow plows, working at the sewage treatment plant) before becoming a cop.  I guess he was a company man. My mom had a more glamorous job working as a secretary at an ad agency in Chicago. As was surprisingly common back then, as soon as her boss found out she was pregnant, he fired her.  She didn’t work outside our house again until I was in middle school.

My husband and many of my friends were born in the ‘70s, but I’m proud to have been born at the tail-end of the 1960s.  So many major events happened in 1969, some of which changed the world.  In addition to Woodstock, Neil Armstrong was the first man to step foot on the moon, the gay rights movement was born with the Stonewall riot in New York City, students everywhere banded together to protest the Vietnam War, the Manson Family went on a killing spree in California and PBS launched Sesame Street.

70s family photoI am really a child of the ’70s though.  My formative years were spent running in a pack of kids around our “Everytown, USA” suburb from morning until night.  My mom would feed us cereal for breakfast and then set us free.  We’d return home only for bathroom breaks (the girls, that is…the boys just peed in the alley) and meals.  We knew it was time to head in for the night when my dad used his impressive whistle to call us from the front porch.  It was about as taxing as having a dog in a fenced-in yard (feed it, let it out, bring it back in, occasionally give it a pat on the head) unless someone came home bleeding which happened fairly often.

I spent my days riding my green Schwinn with a sparkly banana seat around and around the block, sometimes for hours on end.  We’d play Kick the Can, Running Bases and “Spy,” a game we made up that had virtually no rules.  We’d ride my brother’s Big Wheel down the steps of our porch and, later, his BMX bike over rickety ramps he’d nailed together himself.

We weren’t allowed to travel far, but luckily, the neighborhood park was just down the street.  Only in my adult years have I come to realize that the park was a death trap. We had the high metal slide on which we burned our butts in the summer and from which, occasionally, someone particularly uncoordinated fell over the side, plunging to the ground below.  There was a red and white mushroom-shaped merry-go-round thing the the older kids dubbed “the bloody tit” (so poetic). You could climb on top of it and lay on your belly, while the other kids tried to spin it so fast that you’d fly off head first.

The most popular feature with the teenagers was the Fun House which was a little house-shaped structure that had a rolling drum inside made of planks of wood that you could run around on like a hamster wheel.  Since four or more kids could fit in there at a time, we suffered your typical injuries from bodies smashing into the hard wood and each other.

The older kids were fond of the Fun House, however, for the shelter it provided from prying eyes.  Adults couldn’t see into it from the street so the teenagers were free to make out with boyfriends or girlfriends and smoke pot without fear of being dragged home by their parents or the police.  And, if that weren’t private enough, there was also a pavillion that had brick walls to about waist height.  We little kids only figured out what the teenagers were up to in hindsight.  At the time, we had no clue what they did in there for hours or what that weird smell was that came wafting out.  I distinctly remember that someone had spray painted in large letters on the cement floor a mysterious string of words…Blue Oyster Cult.

Jackie & Jeff 1976I thought the ’70s was the best time to be a kid and marveled at my luck in being alive to experience the highlight of the decade…The Bicentennial.  I was 7 years old in 1976, the perfect age to get caught up in all the hoopla over our nation’s 200th year. The whole country was bathed in red, white and blue and there was a palpable excitement in the air.  The pinnacle of my young life at that time was riding on a float dressed as Betsy Ross in our town’s Bicentennial parade.  That was my first brush with fame only to be topped years later by half-assed performances in numerous school plays.

To me, red, white and blue were the colors of the ’70s.  One of my earliest memories is of watching Mark Spitz in the 1972 Olympics.  He rocked not only a pretty rad porn-’stache for the Games, but also a snappy red, white and blue, stars-and-stripes Speedo.  And, I clearly remember a family of five we’d see every year when we drove down to Sarasota, Florida for vacation who arrived one summer all dressed in matching stars-and-stripes bathing suits.  It was a thing of beauty.

We didn’t have much money, but my mom managed to decorate our home with a stylish 1970s flair.  We had the requisite flocked wallpaper and macrame.  The living room was decorated in the, then popular and very hip, “Spanish Style.”  The furniture was red and black and the room was accessorized with a 4 foot tall statue of Cortez in armor.  The walls were decorated with ominous looking crossed maces and “ojo de Dios” wood-and-string designs.  My favorite thing was the white shag carpet in my parents’ room, but I rarely got to go lounge in its heavenly fluff because my dad worked shift-work and was usually snoring away in there.

We later moved a few blocks away and our new house was decorated in a more upscale, but ubiquitous at the time, avocado green, goldenrod and burnt orange color scheme.  Anything that wasn’t patriotically clad in the ’70s, was some off shade of either green, gold, orange or brown.  I remember it as an extremely muddy decade.

Being young and not yet partied out, my parents had a large group of friends.  I have memories of them lugging my brother and I along to parties with them.  After we wreaked havoc with their friends’ kids for a while, the parents would stuff us all into our pajamas and attempt to get us to sleep so they could stay late drinking beer, Whiskey Sours and a minty cocktail called a Grasshopper which I would sneak sips of when my mom wasn’t looking.

the_day_afterOverall, I had a pretty happy and carefree childhood.  The ’80s soon arrived though, and the magic of those days faded away.  With the new decade came puberty, Ronald Reagan and the nuclear holocaust movie The Day After.  I don’t know why my parents thought it was important for my brother and I to watch it with them.  It’s not like we headed to the back yard afterwards to start digging a bomb shelter together.  But I do know that my childhood ended abruptly as I entered my teens terrified of an impending nuclear attack.

I often think about how different those days were from these in which my daughters are growing up.  Despite the many differences, though, I hope my kids will someday think back on their own childhoods as fondly as I do on those long ’70s summer nights when the sun seemed to hang in the sky forever, riding in the way-back of my parents’ Buick LeSabre station wagon, fighting with my brother and listening to Jim Croce on the radio.