Thinking pop culture

Thinking pop culture

The Fattening-up of American Hustle

According to American Hustle, 1978 was a time of big hair. Of cool music. A time before, apparently, bras were invented.

Perhaps it was also a time when people had the patience to sit still for 138 minutes. I was born in 1980 - I need my gratification much more immediate than this.

Like 2012’s severely overrated Argo, Hustle has a fantastic trailer. Also sadly like Argo, substance took a backseat to temporally accurate props like cars and amber-tinted sunglasses. Style aplenty but a stock standard con-job storyline executed much better elsewhere.

The Grifters (1990), Nine Queens (2000) and Ocean’s 11 (2001) for starters.

When a film is as boring as American Hustle - and if leaving the cinema would be rude because I’m with company - I’ll occupy myself by trying to solve some of the flick’s less advertised mysteries.

Christian Bale.

Bale - who, no matter his role, consistenly conveys the impression that he really is an American Psycho (2000) - piled on the kilos to play Hustle‘s thoroughly uninteresting con-artist Irving.

Bale’s fattening prompted the same question one might ask of Robert De Niro’s weight gain in Raging Bull (1980), Toni Colette’s in Muriel’s Wedding (1994), Renée Zellweger’s in Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001), Charlize Theron’s in Monster (2003), Jared Leto’s in Chapter 27 (2007) and Chris Pratt’s in Delivery Man (2013).

Why?

Couldn’t producers find plumper actors?

The obvious answer is that big budget films only get green-lit if big names are attached. The biggest names are invariably the thinnest. Yadda yadda, insert doughnut consumption.

There are, of course, other explanations worth pondering.

When the bloated pay packets of stars are considered, balking might follow. One way therefore, for stars to “prove” their worth, is by suffering for their art. That every profiterole and Pop Tart consumed was simply about thespian dedication.

In a world where fat-suits - as witnessed in the deplorable Shallow Hal (2001) - or special effects could offer weight gain far quicker than a junk-tastic diet, going the distance and actually fattening-up apparently separates the artistes from the poseurs.

And time and time again, such gimmicky madness gets validated. Theron took home an Oscar for her fattening; Collette snared an AFI. Cinemas inevitably get filled because audiences have an unquenchable curiosity for make-overs and bodily transformation.

(For the sake of fairness, it equally works in reverse. Much was made of how much weight Bale lost for The Machinist (2004), ditto for Anne Hathaway in Les Misérables (2012)).

For biopics - Raging Bull, for example, or Monster - an argument could be made that weight gain is important to achieving a certain likeness. This however, is often not the case. Why did Irving in American Hustle (a film merely “inspired by” real events) or Brett in Delivery Man need to be fat? Could Irving not have achieved weird/sleazy/boring without the extra bulk? Did Brett have to be rotund because such is the burden for the best friend in a lame comedy?

By bulking up a normally svelte actor, more than just reinforcing negative stereotypes about size, also conveyed is a preference for fake fat.

That while our culture clutches onto a bitter loathing of chub, its illusion is heartily embraced. Fake fat folk aren’t threatening because we all know that they’ll get their body back; that the status quo of worshipping the genetically gifted will soon resume.

I’m sure there’s a health argument to made here - that rapidly putting on and losing such vast amounts of weight isn’t optimal - but that’s for GPs and insurance companies to care about.

For me, my focus is on the ridiculousness of the gimmick. Just as staging a film in the 70s and playing a little Donna Summers isn’t enough to make it any good, chubbing up an actor does zilch to make their character more interesting and absolutely nothing to make the film more engaging.

Music. One of American Hustle’s few highlights - “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” - Elton John.

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