In the 70’s, apparently every day was cloudy, and the only joy we had were skimpy clothes and discos.
I caught the movie “American Hustle” on Christmas Day, and while I can highly recommend the movie, I have some questions about how films set in the 1970’s present the decade, especially when I lived through it (barely).
“American Hustle” is another in a long line of Christian Bale movies where he has changed his body to fit the role. Furthering a tradition where he’s gone anorexic thin (“The Machinist”). crack addict thin (“The Fighter”) and fight ready buff (“Batman”), Bale went fat for his role as con man Irving Rosenfeld, packing on 60 plus pounds to challenge Jared Leto for title of most fat packed on for a role.
While the story kind of starts in the middle, and works back to catch everyone up, the plot is fairly simple, Rosenfeld, and his newly found soul mate mistress, Sydney Posser (Amy Adams), are busted running a loan con on desperate people. An ambitious FBI agent, Richie DeMasso (Bradley Cooper) offers them immunity if they can use the con to take down four big name marks. The plan unravels quickly as bigger and bigger fish get caught in the web, and Rosenfeld’s wife Rosslyn (Jennifer Lawrence) becomes a goofy wild card.
The story is very loosely based on the actual 1978 ABSCAM sting, in which the FBI nailed politicians taking bribes to aid a fake Arab sheikh buy a casino in Atlantic City. Google it. It’s an interesting story. But not as fun as the movie, which becomes a farce with hair curlers, comb overs, a love triangle, disco bathroom make out sessions, drunk tongue wagging, stereotypical mobsters straight out of “Goodfellas”, and passive aggressive manipulation.
It fits nicely into a group of movies set in the 70’s that seem vaguely similar: “Donnie Brasco”, “Blow”, and “Goodfellas”, which kind of brings me to my point. Were the 70’s that dreary?
It seems like these movies all feature a 70’s where every day is overcast, the politicians are all on the take from the mob, the mob is scary and controls everything and the only relief we had was the local disco and drug use. (To be fair, there was only one drug reference in “Hustle” and it was quick and subtle).
Even the films that break away from that genre like “The Ice Storm” and “Anchorman” don’t paint a great picture of that decade. My kids probably think that I picked up mom in the bathroom of a disco while high on coke and holding 50 grand in unmarked bills. I didn’t even like going to the disco. I was dragged on occasion to various dance clubs, and I reluctantly went, mainly because there were girls there, and girls didn’t necessarily enjoy my pastimes of listening to dreary Pink Floyd music and smoking pot.
Yes, I would grudgingly agree that my recollection of growing up in the 70’s in an Upper Midwestern Rust Belt town matches up with most of what these movies portray, it was cold and grey and there were quite a few shady characters in my neighborhood, but I don’t want to accept that. I want to think that somewhere there was a different 70’s, one where life resembled a JC Penney catalog or “The Brady Bunch”. Where couples didn’t yell at each other, and drug use wasn’t so blatant. Where architecture didn’t resemble concrete blocks and Italian restaurants were bright like the Olive Garden. Is that asking too much?