Llewyn vs. Hustle

Abstract: I enjoyed and was moved by Inside Llewyn Davis. I was annoyed and bored by American Hustle. I am irritated by the fuss being lavished on Hustle, and disappointed at the lack of love being bestowed on Llewyn.

I can understand why Inside Llewyn Davis isn’t generating any Oscar buzz – it features a non-lovable central character who is not being played by Meryl Streep. Even for the Coens, that’s a risky move. But it makes me sad. The character wasn’t overtly lovable, but he was dedicated to his goals, and skilled at what he did, though overshadowed by Bob Dylan, and I respected his craft and drive (and he was very nice to that cat!). Aside from the nature of the central character, the film was beautiful to look at, and the music was wonderful. Even if you wouldn’t buy folk music to play on your commute, it’s wonderful in its own way, and the movie treats it with great respect. Mrs. Basch pointed out (I would not have picked this up otherwise) that each song is played in its entirety, giving the soundtrack a central place in the structure of the movie.

I found Llewyn’s story moving and compelling.

American Hustle seemed to me a movie about hair. It seems to be claiming that people at this time really wore their hair like this; it was not. I was there, and I know. Hair, as it is shown in the movie, was rare, and would be noticed and mocked. It’s crazy-person hair. Okay, I have seen some elaborate combovers; that was realistic. Aside from the hair, the production design had a bloated, oily quality (especially noticeable in the posters; I first thought it was the Donald Trump Story, from the Jeremy Renner posters).

As for the clothes, I can’t say I’ve ever seen anyone walk around with décolletage down to their navel all the time, as in Amy Adams’ character. I mean, all the time, every outfit! Formal, business casual, sporty… all had the same décolletage! Did the character shop at a specialty clothing store, where every outfit had this crazy décolletage? Frontless Frocks? Sartorial Sterna? (that’s the plural of sternum) Classy Cleavage? (though, to be perfectly honest, Amy Adams has the tidy, discreet physique that doesn’t lend itself to interesting or dramatic cleavage)

As for the plot, the “hustle” part seems to only happen in the end. The rest of the movie seemed full of odd pseudo-improvised dialog, with weird repetitions and boring language. Mrs. Basch noted the resemblance to Scorsese movies (cf. Taxi Driver). I was also reminded of actor friends of mine taking acting classes in the “Meisner” style, where they did these repetition exercises. I was never trained that way (I did straight “method”), but Hustle sounded like those exercises; actors can be very excited about what they do in class, and tend to repeat it in bars, afterward.

I do give credit to Christian Bale for putting on a lot of weight; though I’ve always found it pretty easy to do. I thought he had a plastic torso, but Mrs. Basch tells me that no, he actually put on that weight via food. Well, good for him. I know the Academy loves actors who uglify themselves, especially if they act ugly on top of being ugly – Bale’s waddle to emphasize his bulk does the trick. That way, we know it’s not really him – he’s really slim and fit, see, handsome too. He’s just so devoted to his craft, that he’s willing to be all ugly, in the name of art. And acting.

It would be disingenuous to claim that I think that the Oscars are some kind of meritocratic exercise. Merit is just one of many factors. But still. I’m sad.