Self loves Daniel Carlson’s review of American Hustle on Pajiba. Clearly, here is a man who knows his David O. Russell. Not only that, he seems to know the 70s (“This song is really from 2001!”)
Self surmises he is not twenty-something. He could be thirty-something. Maybe even forty-something. Self hates when a review shows the writer’s utter lack of familiarity with anything earlier than 1990.
Back to the review: First, Carlson tells us about Abscam. He explains why this film is not really a fact-built case. Why it posits a kind of parallel universe — a theory, if you will.
But who cares about a theoretical posit of Abscam?
Until she saw American Hustle, self had completely forgotten about Abscam. You see, so many things have happened to self in the 30 years since: she went to grad school, she lived in New York, she got married, raised a child, wrote four books, edited an anthology, bought two houses, three cars, read an infinite number of books (She averaged about 60 books a year, at one point). Yet, she was completely absorbed by Russell’s film. Clearly, if Abscam unfolded, then the process of how must be probed. And probing can be very, very fun. Especially if one focuses on the emotions of the parties involved, to show how these emotions lead to behaviors that lead to further behaviors, and how everything begins to topple like a line of Dominos.
“Because a lie always looks better when it’s a little bit true. We’ll dismiss out of hand those statements that feel totally improbable, but the ones that use things we know to be true — facts, people, our own experience — are harder to untangle. From a storytelling standpoint, you get an extra oomph when you claim to be based on a true story, even if the final product is so far removed from historical fact that it makes no sense to claim kinship with it. Watching American Hustle to learn about Abscam would be like reading Wikipedia to learn how to perform brain surgery, but the film still gets some juice for looking just enough like real life to fool us for a moment. And in those moments, we forget the levels of fakery and connect with what’s happening on screen. So the lies, inspired by the truth, wind up coming full circle to inspire a truth of their own.”
How doe we know the film is trying to depict “real life”? Because the very first scene is of a man trying to arrange his thinning hair into an elaborate comb-over. Never, ever before in the history of cinema has there been an opening scene like this.
Which then leads to the question: Why would anyone want to watch a movie “to learn about Abscam?” For that matter, who watches movies to learn about anything? Movies are specifically about experiencing, learning is a completely unintended (if welcome) side effect.
Self posits that maybe 75% of the people who went to see American Hustle went to see Jennifer Lawrence. Or Christian Bale. Or Amy Adams.
Lawrence’s star burns so bright now. So do Bales’ and Adams’s. And Cooper’s. And Renner’s.
Carlson even dares to bring up the film’s “total lack of moral reckoning.” Which makes the proceedings twice as fun! For, in the words of the immortal Plutarch Heavensbee, “It’s appalling. Still, if you abandon your moral judgment, it can be fun.”
Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.